The Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is backing the Ku Klux Klan. The issue at hand is participation in the State's Adopt-A-Highway program, in which community groups volunteer to clear litter and debris from sections of roadway. Groups that do so get to have a sign erected on that roadway, acknowledging the civic contribution of the group.
The KKK's application was denied on the grounds that the posted sign will be offensive to many. In words that accompanied the decision: “the impact of erecting a sign naming an organization which has a long rooted history of civil disturbance would cause a significant public concern.”
Not merely a "history of civil disturbance." The KKK has a chilling legacy of hate, violence and oppression. I can imagine the effect of the apparent sanction of this group that their participation would represent. It will generate fear, confusion, anger and outrage among many, especially among Blacks, whose exclusion from citizenship in the south was enforced by the terrorism of the KKK. And, beyond being merely offended, I imagine there will be those who will experience a sense of terror, feeling themselves suddenly in Klan county, and vulnerable to all the horrors that the white sheets represent.
And yet, as pointed out by the head of the Georgia State ACLU that has decided to defend the KKK, it is a violation of their constitutional right for them to be denied participation because they hold unpopular ideas that others may find offensive. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right, and it cannot be denied because people hold ideas that are wrong, stupid or unpopular. By extension, no group should be prohibited from participating in a civic activity based on its beliefs alone, however offensive.
By and large, I support the ACLU. I admire that it's an organization that stands of principles, regardless of the political implications. As the ACLU head stated in the radio interview I heard, the staff of the ACLU is pretty leftist; they don't share the views of the KKK at all. But they understand the importance of the principle involved. I do too. And so, painful as it is, I side with them. Yes, let the Klan itself go about in public, putting forward "good works" as the face of its racist philosophies. As the ACLU rep said, it's really only unpopular speech that needs the protection of the 1st amendment.
I recall how transparant the politics was in 2000 when the US Supreme Court was deciding the outcome of the Presidential election. Then, you had the conservative Republican party, champion of States Rights, and historically against "activist courts", calling for the Supreme Court to stop the recount of ballots that the Florida courts had ordered. While on the other side, the Democrats, who are traditionally supportive of Federal intervention in state matters, and pro activism by the courts, were insisting that the Supreme Court stay out of the matter. It was such blatant hypocrisy, on all sides, that none of the parties earned respect by it.
Yes, the integrity of the ACLU, which supports the Bill of Rights, for anyone, anywhere and anytime, is impressive. And necessary. Ultimately, I don't think it's effective only to uphold principles when they play out in ones favor. It's hard though, this supporting of principles that, in turn, permit the sharing and spreading of false doctrines, racist philosophies, and hate. But is there really a better way?