Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ammunition for your Turkey Day arguments

Ah, Thanksgiving...that classic American holiday in which families gather together to stuff themselves stupid, watch football, and tiptoe delicately around safe conversation topics. Inevitably, Grampa Joe or Aunt Sally will bring up the latest rant from their favorite pundit, often a criticism of some new and dastardly way the ACLU is destroying the fabric of America. Like any polite relative, you'll avoid engaging and politely change the subject to something non-controversial - like who was on Leno last night. Right?

Ah, who are we kidding? If we were people who avoid engaging in controversial conversation, we wouldn't be the ACLU.

So, should you decide to embarrass your poor family by going point-for-point against your misinformed but opinionated relatives, we want you to be well-armed with the ACLU member's favorite ammunition: logic and cold, hard fact. Here are a few of the most popular lies about the ACLU, and how to argue against them.

MYTH: The ACLU is fighting a war against Christmas

Much as we'd miss our annual deluge of Christmas cards and their heartwarming holiday spirit ("Merry Christmas, you atheist bastards!") the truth is we have nothing against people observing and celebrating Christmas. Personally, I love Christmas. Where we have a problem is where governments implicitly endorse one specific religious belief by putting on Christmas celebrations, and forgetting everyone else. 

But the fact is, even when we file a suit, it's always against a government entity and it's against things like nativity scenes and crucifixes - stuff that represents a specific faith, not symbols of a shared cultural season like Christmas trees or Santa. We've never insisted anyone change the name to "holiday tree," and we have nothing whatsoever to do with private stores like Macy's and Walmart choosing to say "Happy Holidays." They do that to try to be respectful of all their shoppers, which to us seems pretty in-line with "peace on earth and good will toward men."

MYTH: The ACLU is suing to remove crosses from military cemeteries.

This is patently untrue, and was made up out of whole cloth to smear the ACLU. In fact, the ACLU believes very strongly in the right of each person to express their religion, and we would fight hard against anyone who told a Christian soldier that he or she could not choose to have a cross on his or her headstone. But don't take our word for it. Check with Snopes.

MYTH: The ACLU sued to stop Marines from engaging in prayer.

Once again, Snopes comes in handy. Patently untrue, and demonstrates a frequent misunderstanding of our defense of religious liberty. The ACLU fights hard to defend the rights of every American to express his or her religion freely. What we oppose is government endorsement or enforcement of religion. This is why, for instance, we will defend the right of a child or children to choose to pray in a public school, but oppose the school's endorsement of such, including any school official leading that prayer.

A recent rumor is that the ACLU is trying to introduce Sharia law into US government, which is as untrue as it is ludicrous. We defend the rights of Muslims to observe their religion as they choose, just as we defend the rights of Christians to do the same.  What we oppose is the introduction of those religious laws into the government.

On a related note, there's a great web site, The ACLU Fights for Christians (maintained by a kind supporter) to show anyone who tells you that the ACLU is anti-Christian.

MYTH: The ACLU runs the CIA

Our apologies to guests at the Bachmann Thanksgiving table, but no matter how many times you hear this repeated, it just isn't true.

We're not saying we wouldn't like to be in charge - we have a lot of great ideas, like stopping waterboarding and other torture altogether, closing secret prisons and Guantanamo Bay, and respecting Constitutional requirements like due process and habeas corpus. We've been shouting pretty loud about all those things for a while now, as have the majority of Americans who want the same things - but they don't appear to be charge of the CIA either.

So there you go. There are, of course, no shortage of other lies, misunderstandings, and distortions about the ACLU, but we thought we'd stick with the classics. Granted, you probably won't win any points with your relatives for starting a screaming match. When in doubt, there's nothing wrong with being polite - if you have to, you can always rely on the clip below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris in Philly

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Blogger MHD said...

This is brilliant! Where were you when my ultra right wing relative ruined every holiday insisting her views were the only viable ones? I'm looking forward to the feast this year without this relative. Those left are all civil libertarians! Wa-hoo! Free Speech Day in our house!

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Time Lord said...

Another great source is There's a whole list of specific cases there.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:28 AM  

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