On September 5th, the Capital Gazette reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sent a letter to Anne Arundel County Council Chair John Grasso, informing him that he had “improperly censored two county residents.” These two residents, Peter Cane and Yasemin Jamison, had attempted this past Spring to speak before the County Council about Councilman Michael Peroutka’s former membership in the League of the South, a white-supremacist group dedicated to forming an independent South governed by and for white Christians.
In response, Grasso claimed that the ACLU serves a political agenda and is “all about one side.” He is clearly unaware that the ACLU has a long history of championing freedom of speech for groups whose ideologies and political agendas run counter to liberal thought.
For example, the organization supported a Confederate veterans’ group that wanted the state of Texas to approve a specialty license plate depicting the Confederate flag. The Supreme Court supported Texas in denying the plate, but the ACLU stepped in, stating “By allowing states to censor private speech they deem offensive, today’s decision is a step backwards for the First Amendment.”
In addition, the ACLU filed a motion stating that Florida state law-enforcement officers had violated Rush Limbaugh’s privacy rights when they seized the conservative radio talk show host’s medical records as part of a criminal investigation.
The ACLU even defended the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts to adopt a highway in Georgia. The state blocked the request, and the ACLU sued. According to Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia, “We decided to take this case because it is such a clear violation of the speech rights of the group.”
In addition to his unfounded claim that the ACLU is “all about one side,” Grasso further stated, “I don’t agree with anything the ACLU does.”
The ACLU was a friend-of-the-court participant in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. The Supreme Court’s decision outlawed many of the racist practices of states that engaged in mandatory segregation within public education. As a result of the decision, African Americans were able to make tremendous gains in education, which in turn enabled many to develop the knowledge and skills needed to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.
In the 1964 Reynolds v. Sims case, the ACLU was instrumental in securing the historic civil-rights decision that mandated the “one person, one vote” principle for state legislative districts. This decision continues to ensure that minority populations throughout the country have fair representation in state and local government. Chief Justice Earl Warren later noted that Reynolds v. Sims was the most important decision rendered during his tenure.
A few years later, the ACLU represented the Lovings in the 1967 landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. The case was brought by Mildred Loving, an African American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The couple had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other in violation of the state’s miscegenation laws. The Supreme Court ruled that all state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
Since Mr. Grasso disagrees with “anything the ACLU does,” can we assume that he opposes integrated schools? Does he oppose fair and equitable voting rights? Does he oppose interracial marriage? Or was Mr. Grasso simply uninformed about what the ACLU does when he made his statement to the press?
At the September 18 County Council meeting, some citizens intend to ask Grasso to clarify his remarks about the ACLU to help us understand where he stands on civil liberties. At the beginning of each County Council meeting, citizens have two minutes to exercise their free speech rights by addressing the Council on any matter. Please consider coming to this Council Meeting, adding your voice in support of civil liberties as well as any other issue that is important to you.
If Grasso truly does disagree with “anything the ACLU does,” we should all be concerned.
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