Ed Brayton’s Talk on “Demonizing the ACLU”

Yesterday, Diane and I took a bit of a road trip.

First up was a visit to Holland, Michigan, where we picked up 60 quail for training Ritka with. Diane is hoping to have Ritka ready for field trials come this fall.

Then it was off to downtown Grand Rapids. We parked at City Women’s Club on East Fulton and walked down to the One Trick Pony restaurant to meet with Ed and various other people associated with the Center for Inquiry. The food there is good and they serve pretty large portions. Both Diane and I get tempted by that to eat a bit more than we ought to. We had a pleasant time talking with Ed, Jeff Seaver, Carl Bajema, Greg Forbes, and a few other people whose names I didn’t catch. Then we headed back to the City Women’s Club for the talk.

Ed got his laptop set up with his PowerPoint presentation and I got my camera ready. I took a few posed shots of Ed, since he wants a new head shot for his weblog. I switched over to the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens and bumped the ISO up to 800 for available light shots during the talk.

wre 1550 ws

Ed’s talk was on “Demonizing the ACLU” and how the religious right has consistently mischaracterized the ACLU and failed to credit the ACLU for acting in cases where the religious right and the ACLU share an interest. There was a lot of material that was new to me. Ed systematically tackled the urban legend of the religious right when it comes to the ACLU.

First up was the “The ACLU is a Commie organization”. This is based upon Roger Baldwin, founder of the ACLU, having been a socialist. The rest of the story involved how Baldwin, after 1939, purged the ACLU of Communists on the governing board and had the charter changed so that totalitarians of any sort were not eligible for membership. And how Baldwin publicly criticized Communist states. And the book Baldwin wrote on how Communism was bad for free societies. Etc. Why don’t the folks in the religious right bother to talk about those facts? Ed brought up a theme that ran through the evening’s talk: Trashing the ACLU helps the religious right bottom line. The ACLU provide convenient bogeymen, and people sympathetic to the religious right tend to open up their wallets and give, and give, time and again, when they are told that this or that organization is fighting the good fight against the depraved minions of darkness at the ACLU.

The Skokie incident where the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois demonstrated principled defense of the bill of rights. Ed pointed out that the lead attorney on that case for the ACLU was Jewish, and made clear that they were defending their client’s right to assemble, not the content or position that their client took. Principle costs sometimes, and if I recall correctly, Ed noted that the ACLU lost a third of their membership over disagreements about having taken on that case.

Ed made a great point about how there are two aspects to religion and rights in the first amendment, that the government is prohibited from endorsing a particular religious view and that individuals have the right to practice religion as they choose, the free exercise right. The religious right goes a long way in vilification of the ACLU, Ed noted, by highlighting ACLU cases where the ACLU opposes government endorsement of religion and acting as if those cases meant that the ACLU opposed individual free exercise of religion. The truth, of course, comes through clearly in the many cases where the ACLU has stepped in to protect free exercise.

There was the obligatory slide featuring Chuck Norris and commentary by Ed on the content of a column Norris wrote for WorldNetDaily. It showed Norris standing in front of a huge billowing USA flag holding two handguns, almost like Yosemite Sam from old Warner Brothers cartoons. One comment of Ed’s was that it didn’t seem like Norris was doing much to turn the other cheek in that pose.

In the Q&A period, someone asked about the Supreme Court, and we almost got a second talk from Ed on that topic. It was impressive to see Ed go off to the races with detailed analysis of the post-O’Connor court and how Justice Kennedy is now the swing vote on church-state separation cases.

I mentioned the bit of over-eating before. Diane had not felt well through the talk, and given that she had classes to teach early in the day, we took our leave after the talk and didn’t go off to the pizza joint that is the usual post-talk hangout for CfI events.

My hat’s off to Ed for yet another sterling public presentation.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

4 thoughts on “Ed Brayton’s Talk on “Demonizing the ACLU”

  • 2008/03/27 at 9:35 pm

    Reed, your approach to demonizing makes them present and available at all times, which has the opposite effect from what the religious right demonizing procedure aims for.


  • 2008/03/28 at 10:36 am

    For those of you reading this who aren’t Unix sysadmins, many service programs are called “daemons”. They run in the background, and handle particular tasks as needed. Mostly such programs get launched on boot-up, but when a sysadmin has to start a daemon program from the command line, the command line Reed gave is pretty typical.

    “sudo aclu -d &”

    Let’s take these a step at a time.

    “sudo” is a program that allows a user to authenticate themselves as a privileged user, the superuser, and execute a command with the privileges of the superuser. Typically one is prompted for the superuser password when “sudo” is invoked.

    “aclu” is whimsy here, as if the ACLU were implemented as a program on a Unix server. More typically, something like “sendmail” might be launched, a program to handle email traffic.

    “-d” is a command line parameter that is usually available for daemon programs. When the command line parameter is present, the program puts itself in daemon mode and awaits calls from the operating system to handle tasks.

    “&” is a parameter that is interpreted by the shell. It tells the shell that the program being executed should not be used interactively, but rather should be made a background process. “Amping off” is a slang term for this, and it means that the program is not tied to the shell invocation, and can persist beyond the time the shell runs.

  • 2008/03/28 at 3:36 pm

    Or if you are on a machine that’s a bit System V-ish:

    cd /etc/rc.d/init.d/
    sudo ./aclu start

    BTW, I saw the photo that now graces Ed Brayton’s blog. Looks good.

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