I would like to say a word in defense of the American Civil Liberties Union. Christians—including me, both in the pages of CT and elsewhere—often criticize the ACLU for advocating separation of church and state in ways that seem less grounded in the Constitution and in history than in an ideological desire for a religion-free public arena. On the other hand, I shudder when fellow Christians blithely dismiss the organization as fundamentally biased against them. Some call it the Anti-Christian Liberals Union or the Anti-Christian Litigation Unit. There are other, less friendly acronyms as well. I think the ACLU is wrong to oppose religious expression in the public square, but being wrong is not the same as being evil.

More to the point, the ACLU is often right about the First Amendment's free exercise clause, taking on fights that others refuse. It might surprise some critics that the ACLU defends the free speech and free exercise rights of, well, Christians.

For example, in 2001, the group interceded with a school district in Michigan that had deleted a high school senior's yearbook entry because she included a Bible verse. In 2002, the ACLU filed a brief on behalf of a pastor associated with Operation Rescue who was prevented from participating in a parade because his pro-life poster showed a photograph of an aborted baby. And last September, the organization joined a lawsuit on behalf of a New Jersey second-grader who was not allowed to sing "Awesome God" in a school talent show. (All of these examples are easily accessible on several Web pages now devoted to defending the ACLU 's record on Christianity.)

Yet I must confess that, although I am pleased to balance the record, defending the ACLU is not my primary purpose ...

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Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
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May 2006

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