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MAYBE JONETTA ROSE Barras got the ACLU confused with the Clinton campaign committee (“Taking Liberties,” 2/2). They’re different: The latter makes its decisions based on polls and focus groups and seeks the affirmation of the majority, the former takes its cue from the Constitution and seeks the protection of minorities. A majoritarian criteria for the defense of civil libertiesnot “thwarting the majority for the benefit of the minority”sounds appealing, but I wonder whether Barras would like it applied to minorities other than teenagers and the nonreligioussay, to blacks, gays, or the people who put personal ads in the Washington City Paper.
It may help to recall that it was only 50 years ago that the Supreme Court decided that the post office shouldn’t determine which mail was too offensive to distribute, only about 30 years ago that mixed-race couples gained the constitutional right to marry, and even less that unmarried couples gained the constitutional right to use contraceptives. In each case a minorityin some cases a despised minorityderailed “popular solutions to major social ills.” Our views on these matters, happily, do change over time.
I prefer the criteria of the cartoonist Walt Kelly, who said we have to defend the basic right of all Americans to make damn fools of themselves. The alternative is to leave the matter up to people like Clinton, who thinks the Bill of Rights is just another executive order to be modified as convenient.
Or like Barras, who presumably still believes there is a moment when we should all stand up for our rights. When they start arresting the newspaper editors, however, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.
The Progressive Review