50 years of good defense

From an editorial Tuesday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

Talk about being born in a whirlwind. In 1963, North Carolina legislators passed a now-infamous law called the speaker ban, a ridiculous attempt to prohibit members of the Communist Party and other so-called radicals from speaking on campuses of the University of North Carolina system.

The bill was railroaded through the General Assembly and was not subject to a veto by then-Gov. Terry Sanford because the governor didn’t have that power in North Carolina at that time. Sanford hated the law. So did William Friday, president of what was to become the UNC system. Sanford and Friday knew the law was an infringement on free speech.

But the event was important for another reason: It inspired a handful of volunteers to form the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now marking its 50th anniversary.

The group has been vilified by conservatives, but it has in fact defended the free speech rights of everyone, notably the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has held demonstrations blaming most of the world’s ills on gay people.

America’s rights can be under assault from without and within, by people who believe the best way to win a political or philosophical argument is to silence the other side. The ACLU, time and again, has said no, even under withering criticism.