by Dr. Paul Kengor
The ACLU seems unusually active right now. What gives? Maybe it’s the Christmas season, which always seems to spring the ACLU into high gear, making it more miserable than usual.
I tried to ignore the latest round of ACLU legal challenges against religious Americans, but they became too much. The surge has been remarkably ecumenical, not singling out Protestant or Catholic interests.
First, I got an email from Mat Staver’s group, Liberty Counsel, highlighting a bunch of ACLU lawsuits. Then I read a page-one, top-of-the-fold headline in the National Catholic Register, “Catholic Hospitals Under New Attack by ACLU,” regarding an ACLU request to compel Catholic hospitals to do abortions. Next was an email from a colleague at Coral Ridge Ministries, forwarding a Washington Times article. Then came another email from yet another Christian group on lawsuits somewhere in Florida. And on and on.
That was just a sampling of this year’s Christmas cheer, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union. At least the ACLU always finds a way to unite Protestants and Catholics.
In the interest of faith and charity, I’d like to add my own ecumenical offering—a history lesson. It concerns some fascinating material I recently published on the ACLU’s early founders, especially three core figures: Roger Baldwin, Harry Ward, and Corliss Lamont. I can only provide a snapshot here, but you’ll get the picture.
First, Roger Baldwin: Baldwin was the founder of the ACLU, so far to the Left that he was hounded by the Justice Department of the progressive’s progressive, Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps it was a faith thing. Wilson was a progressive, but he was also a devout Christian, and Roger Baldwin was anything but that.
Baldwin was an atheist. He was also a onetime Communist, who, among other ignoble gestures, wrote a horrible 1928 book called Liberty Under the Soviets. Notably, he was smart enough not to join Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Other early officials of the ACLU, which was founded almost exactly the same time as the American Communist Party, included major party members like William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Louis Budenz (who later broke with the party). Communists used the ACLU to deflect questions from the U.S. government over whether they were loyal to the USSR, were serving Joe Stalin in some capacity, and were committed to the overthrow of the American system.
That whole “overthrow-the-government” thing is something our universities tell us is baloney, a bunch of anti-communist, McCarthyite tripe. In fact, it took me mere minutes of digging into the Comintern Archives on CPUSA to find actual fliers and formal proclamations from the American Communist Party publicly advocating precisely that objective. (Click here to view some of the documents.) I also found the ACLU rife throughout those archives.
So bad had been the ACLU in aiding and abetting American communists that various legislative committees, federal and state, considered whether it was a communist front. The 1943 California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities reported that the ACLU “may be definitely classed as a communist front.” The committee added that “at least 90 percent of its [the ACLU's] efforts are expended on behalf of communists who come into conflict with the law.” That 90-percent figure was consistent with a major report produced by Congress a decade earlier, January 17, 1931.