Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Idiot of the Month: David Morrell

It’s been a while since I handed out an Idiot of the Month award, and I’m sad to say that for the second time since i started this blog, the honor goes to someone from my own state. David Morrell attends Hillsdale College, an excellent little school, and is the founder of The Hillsdale Conservative. He is also another of the gaggle of hack writers for intellectualconservative.com, which seems to forever expand the boundaries of mediocrity and absurdity. Morrell is also the author of this ridiculous little screed about the ACLU that repeats all the old ad hominems (they’re commies!) and adds in a bushel full of non-sequiturs to conclude that the ACLU is “anti-american” and, clearly, a threat to mom and apple pie and country music.

He begins with the familiar and tired old charge that the ACLU was founded by dirty rotten commies:

Baldwin, who visited the Soviet Union in 1927, was greatly intrigued by Communism. So intrigued was Baldwin by the Soviets that in 1928 he released the book Liberty Under the Soviets. To most, anything besides the conclusion that liberty under the Soviets did not exist is counter-intuitive. Baldwin, however, looked to the Soviet Union as a sort of “superprogressive” state. In addition to Baldwin’s ties with members of the Communist Party USA, William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, two of the first board members of the ACLU, would later become card-carrying Communists.

Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that Baldwin, having seen the purge trials take place in the Soviet Union and the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact in the late 30s, not only reversed his earlier hopeful position concerning that country, but revised the ACLU charter to prohibit those who supported totalitarian organizations from being on the board. And the fact that he also personally led the ouster of Gurley Flynn from the board and instituted a series of anti-communist programs within the ACLU that lasted throughout the Cold War. And that he wrote a book, The New Slavery, that staunchly condemned “the inhuman communist police state tyranny, forced labor.” Or the fact that in 1947, Douglas Macarthur took the dirty communist Baldwin to Japan to consult with them on the writing of a new constitution that protected civil liberties.

But why let inconvenient facts get in the way of a perfectly good insinuation of McCarthyite guilt by association? It’s not as though the folks that read intellectualconservative.com would know that sort of thing, right? Throw ’em a little red meat and they’ll lap it up. Besides, he’s just getting started. His real problem with the ACLU is that he views them as anti-Christian. A typical claim made by opponents of the ACLU, but one that, like the claims above, has to ignore inconvenient facts for the argument to look compelling. Morrell, though, is a master of the unsupported assertion:

From its inception, the ACLU has worked to create a new America. To do so, the ACLU found it necessary to achieve two main things: first, the abolishment of Constitutional barriers to governmental power and second, the enervation of man’s soul to make him weak and dependent on government.

The first claim is just plain nonsense in view of the fact that when the ALCU wins a case, it almost always results in a decrease in the power of government; the second is a textbook example of meaningless religiobabble. The “enervation of man’s soul”? What the hell does that mean and what possible connection does it have to legal battles over the bill of rights? And just take a look at this bit of historical ignorance:

In order for the ACLU to tear down constitutional barriers to governmental power, they must extinguish America’s fundamental belief in God, since such a belief is an essential denial of the supreme power of government.

Belief in God is an “essential denial of the supreme power of government”? For crying out loud, has Mr. Morrell not encountered the “divine right of kings” in his history classes at Hillsdale? Was belief in God throughout the middle ages, used as it was to justify the God-given authority of tyrants throughout Europe for a millenia, a denial of the supreme power of government? Was Calvin’s Geneva or the various Inquisitions an example of belief in God being a denial of the power of government? As Jason Kuznicki pointed out in a recent essay, the notion of civil liberties and limited government is founded primarily upon Enlightenment philosophy and the attendant rejection of religiously endorsed despotism.

As bad as Morrell’s knowledge of American colonial and European history is, his recent history, at least as it regards the ACLU and the cases they take on, is even worse. He points to a few superficially absurd examples like the recent action to get a small cross off the LA county seal, and those are easy targets. But he concludes from those trivial examples that the ACLU just hates Christianity, ignoring the fact that in every such case, the issue is government endorsement of religion, not an individual’s right to practice their religion. In a long series of cases that pitted the authority of governmental bodies to prevent individuals from freedom of religious expression, the ACLU has come out consistently against the government and for the individual.

When the ACLU went to court on behalf of Jerry Falwell against the City of Lynchburg to overturn a city ordinance that restricted his right to buy more than a certain amount of property within the city for his church, was this in pursuit of “the abolishment of Constitutional barriers to governmental power”?

When the ACLU filed briefs supporting the right of Lamb’s Chapel to use public school property to show weekly anti-abortion films, was this a part of their “assault on Christianity”? When they went to court in 1992 to defend the right of anti-abortion organizations to protest outside the Clinton inauguration, was that more of that “despotism and poison” that Morrell claims Christianity is an antidote for?

When the ACLU went to court to overrule a public school’s policy that prohibited students to use bible verses on quotes they submitted to their high school yearbooks, is that part of those “pillars of human happiness that the ACLU has sought to destroy”?

The ACLU is not a perfect organization by any means. Their opposition to hate speech codes has been lukewarm at best, and sometimes their chapters have sold out free speech in pursuit of political correctness (Timothy Sandefur has a good example here). And yes, sometimes they do focus on seemingly silly little irrelevencies like a tiny cross on a county seal. But the ridiculous attacks on them from the cretin wing of religious conservatives are little more than the demonization of their betters launched by congenital mediocrities like David Morrell. And that earns him our Idiot of the Month award for September. Congratulations!


  1. #1 Dan
    September 23, 2004

    A great example of the sort of rhetoric and hyperbole that makes those who read and believe in such lunatic fringe stuff get so excited they could wet themselves. Here’s a little thought experiment we can engage in for fun. Suppose the government against which Mr. Morell juxtaposes the supreme power of God decided to tell Mr. Morell that he couldn’t publish his faux intellectual babble. (Not that the Bush administration would try to do anything to suppress speech, mind you, but indulge me.) Would anyone scream louder or more often “freedom of speech!” than Mr. Morell? Or claim that his constitutional right to free exercise was being infringed? And which organization do you suppose would be first on the scene to defend Mr. Morell’s right to say the very things that condemn it? Why, the ACLU! Do you suppose that might change Mr. Morell’s ill-formed opinions? Somehow, I doubt it…people such as him, as you observe, rarely let facts stand in the way of “truth.”

  2. #2 Chris Krolczyk
    September 24, 2004

    Quoting (ugh) Morrell:

    To do so, the ACLU found it necessary to achieve two main things: first, the abolishment of Constitutional barriers to governmental power(…)

    I want no part of what Morrell
    was smoking before he wrote that…

    and second, the enervation of man’s soul to make him weak and dependent on government.

    You win, Ed. I can’t even figure out a snappy comeback to that ‘un. Yikes.

  3. #3 Andrew Reeves
    September 26, 2004

    Much as I hate to defend such a screed, I will make one nitpick in Morrell’s defense. Up until the early modern period, the Church often did stand against the power of the state. While one might argue that it was more to preserve its priveleges, it wasn’t until the early modern period that the Church began to fully comit to the project of expanding the state.

    The idea of the worth of the individual has at least as much ancestry in the Christian faith as it does in the ideals of the Enlightenment. While it may seem like sheer sophistry to say that even while believing that slavery and serfdom were an unfortunate but unavoidable condition of man’s fallen state the Church nonetheless maintained that every individual had the same ontological status before God, I think that such a belief laid a great deal of the intellectual groundwork for the enlightenment.

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