We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
BOTH YOUR ARTICLE criticizing the ACLU (“Taking Liberties,” 2/2) and the letters criticizing that article seem to share one common, but erroneous assumption: that the ACLU speaks for the Constitution, and that its position can be defeated only by showing that community needs somehow outweigh constitutional rights.
In fact, the ACLU’s interpretations of the Constitution are by no means the only plausible ones.
For example, the ACLU opposes school prayer based on the First Amendment’s prohibition against laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” The ACLU (and the majority of the Supreme Court) agree that the term “establishment” bars almost any government activity favoring religion over irreligion. However, some scholars (and the occasional conservative judge) argue that the government “establishes religion” only if it favors one religion over another. A third interpretation of the First Amendment could be that the term “establishment” means that government cannot pass laws that literally create a state religion (e.g., a statute saying, “The Baptist Church is the District of Columbia’s official religion”), but could favor religion in more trivial ways (e.g., school prayer).
Thus, the Constitution is not self-interpreting. The ACLU usually (though not always) interprets the Constitution to a.) support politically liberal views, and b.) to mean that everything that is not prohibited by the Constitution is compelled thereby. Those of us with different prejudices can usually find plausible arguments to support different interpretations. It follows that we can disagree with the ACLU without opposing the Constitution.
Chevy Chase, Md