One of the staple arguments used by the anti-ACLU crowd characterizes the group as something akin to the mafia. The argument is that the “powerful, well-funded” group of liberals goes around the country seeking out poor, weak school districts they can “shake down” by filing lawsuits and then forcing them to pay hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars not only defending themselves in court but paying the ACLU’s fees as well. In this manner they enrich themselves at the expense of those poor, victimized local school districts.
The argument is idiotic in the first place for several reasons. First, the ACLU is anything but well-funded. Second, they have to actually win the case — that is, convince the court that the school is violating the constitution — to have any chance of recovering a portion of the attorneys fees. Third, the ACLU doesn’t usually receive that money anyway; most of the legal work is done by outside attorneys volunteering their time on principle, knowing that they risk receiving no payment for their services at all — often in cases that can drag on for years.
But as Howard Friedman reports, here’s a situation that reverses the whole thing. In the Santa Rosa County School District in Florida there has been ongoing litigation for years over the schools’ unconstitutional advancement of Christianity. The original case, filed by the ACLU on behalf of local families, resulted in a consent decree that forbid a wide range of activities that had gone on at the school that were clearly designed to push Christianity on students.
After that consent decree was agreed to by the schools, Liberty Counsel demanded that the consent decree be removed. They claimed — falsely — that the consent decree would punish a teacher for saying “God bless you” when someone sneezed, that kind of thing. It never did and now the two sides have reached a settlement agreement modifying the original decree to make those concerns more specific. It changes little in reality but it was a good opportunity for the religious right to claim martyrdom for a while and raise some money. But note this:
The agreement also provides for the school board to pay attorneys’ fees and costs totally $265,000, mostly to Liberty Counsel which represented plaintiffs in the case. The ACLU waived its claim for attorneys fees against the school board.
So I’m sure we’ll be hearing from the STACLU crowd how the well-funded, powerful Liberty Counsel went to Florida to bully a poor, weak school district and enrich themselves, right? Right? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s called special pleading — it’s only wrong when it’s done by those I disagree with.