One of the great myths promulgated by the Christian Right is that the ACLU is “anti-religion” and “anti-Christian.” Those bent on demonizing the organization conveniently overlook the many cases in which the ACLU represents the rights of religious folks. When I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, it used to irritate me that we got no credit for being principled.
That is mostly because so few people understand what the principles are.
A friend just alerted me to a Virginia news item about that state’s ACLU, which has defended the right of student athletes to tape copies of the Ten Commandments to their lockers.
For people who are constitutionally literate, this position hardly comes as a surprise. If a school allows students to post items on their lockers, it cannot dictate the content of those items (other than forbidding obscenity). The school could constitutionally forbid the posting of anything at all, but if it does allow students to express themselves in that fashion, the First Amendment’s Free Speech doctrine prohibits the school from picking and choosing among the messages.
If, on the other hand, a public school posts the Ten Commandments, the school is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because the school is an agency of government, and government cannot endorse or sponsor religion.
There’s nothing inconsistent here. The point in both cases is to limit the authority of government.
In our legal system, individuals get to decide what they say and believe, free of government interference. That’s the principle the ACLU is protecting, and it isn’t anti-religious. It’s pro-individual liberty.