How the ACLU Works

ACLU Opposition

People oppose the ACLU for many different reasons. Often, it comes down to a single issue or set of issues. For example, many religious groups oppose the ACLU because it actively works to maintain the separation of church and state. These efforts gain extra attention every December when they speak out against religious displays and nativity scenes on government property. In recent years, this has turned into a backlash against a perceived "War on Christmas."

One of the most pervasive opponents of the ACLU is Catholic League President William A. Donohue. He has written several books on the ACLU, and has praised it at times for fighting for the civil liberties of Catholics. Conversely, Donohue has stated that the ACLU's defense of freedom of speech has led to civil disorder as well as expensive and unnecessary social service programs [ref]. Criticism of the ACLU also stems from the feeling that some civil liberties should be restricted in favor of security, especially in times of war or crisis. Considering the origins of the ACLU, it is unlikely that it would ever agree with such a position.

The ACLU's collection of attorneys' fees also concerns some critics. If the ACLU wins a case argued by one if its attorneys, it can sue for recovery of attorneys' fees. Government officials, agencies and institutions are often immune to this sort of recovery, but not always (it depends on the applicable laws and the nature of the civil rights violation). These fees can be very costly, often reaching six figures. Some claim that the ACLU uses these fees as a form of intimidation, forcing municipalities to do what it says for fear of paying tremendous fees [ref]. Some see this as a case of government money ("tax-payer dollars") indirectly funding the ACLU. However, other legal aid organizations sue to collect attorneys' fees as well.

Regardless of its critics, the ACLU isn't likely to go anywhere -- it's been one of the most active (and controversial) legal aid organizations of the past 80 years. Whether they agree or disagree with its policies, the ACLU's actions have encouraged many Americans to closely consider the rights granted them by the Constitution.

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