Former ACLU head blasts organisation for partisan shift

The former head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticised the organisation for only seeking to protect free speech for people it agrees with.

Ira Glasser, who was Executive Director of the organisation for 23 years, appeared on HBO talk show ‘Real Time’ with Bill Maher to discuss the importance of ensuring everyone has free speech, no matter their views.

He said the ACLU was no longer taking legal cases to protect free speech for all and instead its lawyers are permitted to “cherry-pick” cases where they agree with the defendant’s views.

No defender

When asked if the ACLU was still “a stalwart defender of free speech and civil liberties”, Glasser replied: “Not as much.”

He explained that the organisation had produced guidelines for its lawyers telling them they must ensure “the speech doesn’t offend or threaten other civil liberties values”.

“In other words, before they’re going to defend your free speech, they want to see what you say”, adding: “What is the ACLU doing saying that?”

Defending ‘offensive’ views

The guidelines say lawyers cannot take on cases which are contrary to the organisation’s values, but Maher pointed out that “your value is free speech”.

Glasser said that during his tenure the ACLU had litigated on behalf of people with all sorts of views that he would not agree with, claiming: “Most of the speech we defended did not reflect our views, that’s what it is, that’s the point.”

Most of the speech we defended did not reflect our views … that’s the point.

He said: “People used to say to me, ‘Isn’t it hard to defend free speech when so few people in this country are in favour of it?’ And my response always was: ‘No, that’s wrong. Everybody’s in favour of free speech, as long as it’s theirs'”.

Political and partisan

Glasser agreed the ACLU had drifted over time, saying his former organisation had become “more of a political, partisan, what they call ‘progressive’ organisation”.

He said organisations do have “the right to change”, but added if there isn’t anyone to defend what people on both sides of debates say, “then the Government gets to decide who can speak, and that’s the most dangerous thing of all”.

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