Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 11, 2005

ACLU Amends the Constitution?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:30 pm

I saw a reference to this item on the ACLU’s web site a few months ago, but I figured it must be a typo and would be corrected shortly. But just today I saw another reference to it (on OpinionJournal), so since it’s been there that long after being pointed out in public, I’m going to assume it’s not a typo and is therefore worthy of comment.

The ACLU is misquoting the Constitution, apparently in order to make a point that is actually false. They are claiming that “freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment,” when in fact it is the second. Here is what this page on the ACLU web site says, as of this moment:

It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Yeah, it “no accident” — it’s next door to a lie. See the ellipsis there? Those three little dots, indicating the ACLU deleted something they didn’t think was relevant? Wonder what’s in that spot in the actual First Amendment? What’s in there is the actual “first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment.” For comparison, here’s the actual First Amendment, complete without ellipses, from the website of the National Archives and Records Administration

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’m in a helpful mood, so I put in boldface what the ACLU replaces with three little dots. (I also boldfaced — is that a verb? — two words the ACLU left out completely, without even the courtesy of three little dots.)

And by the way, if you don’t believe the National Archives and Records Administration’s transcription, they have a high-resolution scan of the original, paper Bill of Rights from 1789, which you can download here and inspect for yourself.

Is this an accident? I know the ACLU has a reputation — well-deserved, if you believe their opponents and some of their supporters — for giving short shrift to freedom of religion. But do they really believe they can just ignore it completely, to the point of counting the freedoms in the first amendment like religion isn’t even there? What are they thinking over there? That this will enhance their credibility? With whom? Or do they think so many people use their web site as an authoritative source that the pubilc will stop believing the Constitution protects free exercise of religion if the ACLU posts an alternative version of the Constitution that leaves it out?

Next thing you know, they’ll be claiming the Bill of Rights consists of the “First nine amendments to the Constitution” — I’ll give you one guess as to which one they’ll delete!

UPDATE #1 (1/14/05):

Kevin Baker of The Smallest Minority notes and links to this in the comments below, but not everybody reads the comments so I thought I’d mention it here.

ACLU President Nadine Strossen said in an interview in Reason Magazine, “I don’t want to dwell on constitutional analysis, because our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty.”

Now, obviously this is a free country, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion of what is and is not a fundamental civil liberty. In fact, Ms. Strossen’s statement came in response to a question about why the ACLU defends the First Amendment but opposes the Second. And it seems like an honest answer.

However, there’s a big difference between saying, “We don’t agree with something in the Constitution” and actually denying that it’s in the Constitution.

I want to go on record as saying that if the ACLU wants to say or believe that religious freedom ought not be in the Constitution, they have a right to say and believe that. But if they want to say that religious freedom is not in the Constitution, that’s a lie and they should be exposed for it. Same goes for the Second Amendment rights as well. And for the notion that abortion is mentioned in the Fourth Amendment (it isn’t, even if some people think it should be).

UPDATE #2: (1/16/05)

Azure Field reports that Richard John Neuhaus reports in the Feb. 2004 issue of First Things a fact from which we might conclude that the ACLU’s amendment-by-ellipsis seems to be working:

[A] recent national survey asked administrators and students about the First Amendment. Only 21 percent of administrators and 30 percent of students knew that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom. Only six percent of administrators and two percent of students knew that religious freedom is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment. Only 41 percent of administrators and 32 percent of students believe that religious people should be permitted to advocate their views by whatever legal means available. On the other hand, 74 percent of students and 87 percent of administrators think it “essential” that people be able to express their beliefs unless—and then come a host of qualifications, all amounting to the condition that their beliefs not “offend others.” Commenting on the survey, Alan Charles Kors, a University of Pennsylvania historian, said, “If an antiwar group put up a poster of Iraqi children they claimed were maimed by George Bush, nobody would blink. But let a pro-life group put up a poster of an aborted fetus and suddenly it becomes, ‘Well, they crossed the line.’” Students surveyed said they remember having heard something about the Bill of Rights back in high school. But then they moved on to higher things.

UPDATE #3: (1/31/05)

Never let it be said that Different River never gets results!

This item made it from here to Clayton Cramer to The Smallest Minority to Stephen Rider at StriderWeb, who sent the ACLU an e-mail he posts here.

It’s not clear if the ACLU ever responded to Stephen Rider’s letter, but on January 27, he posted an update saying the ACLU has corrected their web page. (Hat tip: The Smallest Minority.)

Here’s how they changed it. Deletions are in {strikout text} and additions are in boldface.

It is {probably} no accident that freedom of speech is {the first freedom mentioned} protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law {…} respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Constitution’s framers believed that freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression were the hallmarks of a democratic society.

7 Responses to “ACLU Amends the Constitution?”

  1. Dave Schuler Says:

    Freudian slip, no doubt.

  2. romy Says:

    freud had issues with religion? ;) though it does bear psychoanalytical interest : if you pretend something isn’t there, eventually you stop seeing it and can even try to make other people believe it isn’t there …

  3. Different River Says:

    Sorry I can’t resist: Isn’t a “Freudian slip” when you say one thing, and mean your mother?

  4. Eric Says:

    The ACLU seems to be reading some special significance into the position of the first occurance of the word ‘freedom’ immediately before the word ‘speech,’ though I don’t think any objective analyst could call this anything more than a vaguely interesting word game. I suppose by the ACLU’s reasoning, you could say that public assembly is the first ‘right’ mentioned in the Bill of Rights, and that free speech isn’t a ‘right’ at all! Hmmm… maybe that’s why they omitted the word from their bowdlerized Constitution?

  5. Kevin Baker Says:

    It’s simple enough to understand. The ACLU has decided that it and it alone is qualified to determine what is and what isn’t a fundamental civil liberty.

  6. Different River Says:

    ACLU Corrects First Amendment
    Never let it be said that Different River never gets results!

    About three weeks ago, I posted this item noting that the ACLU had misquoted the first amendment to make it seem that freedom of speech was “freedom of speech is the first freedom mentio…

  7. Stephen Rider Says:

    Hi –

    No, to this date I have had no response to that letter. I had simply checked their site again and noticed the change, and commented on it.

    Steve

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