The right to associate freely is a cherished American principle. Our freedom to join or leave groups who share a common viewpoint was guaranteed for posterity by the Founding Fathers under the First Amendment’s guarantees for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Over the years, court rulings have further strengthened this seminal value. In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NAACP v. Alabama that states could not seize membership lists. In Hurley v. Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995), involving the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Court clarified that a group does not have to open its activities to individuals who do not share the group’s particular social, religious, moral or political values.
The courts have clearly distinguished between invidious discrimination based on immutable characteristics such as race, which is illegal, and the legal right to associate or not associate with individuals based on common and/or opposing viewpoints.
Over the years, the ACLU and other liberal groups have vigorously attacked this fundamental American principle by insisting that government has the power to tell citizens, in their private lives, with whom they should and should not associate. Conservative groups are under increasing pressure to divulge the identities of their donors, members, and other supporters. Historically, when state courts or governments have inappropriately forced the disclosure of such names (even under sealed court orders that were later leaked), the individuals whose identities were disclosed were often harmed. Protagonists on the left have engaged in vehement protests, harassment, public and private haranguing, lawsuits, and even violence solely because of an individual’s affiliation with a particular group, or their perceived political, social, moral, religious or other viewpoints.
For instance, through multiple lawsuits, unlawful evictions, and corporate pressure, a vocal minority of atheists, homosexual activists and feminists assailed the Boy Scouts of America, finally forcing the organization in 2013 to agree to violate its own century-old moral code. The Scouts gave in despite having won for decades, with the help of the ACRU and others, every single lawsuit that had challenged the Scouts’ right as a private, voluntary organization to control its membership and the individuals that were entitled to such membership.
The battles continue. Militant liberals within federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service are targeting individuals and groups based on their political beliefs, a clear violation of our First Amendment freedoms of association and speech, as well as the right to petition one’s government for redress.
The ACRU is determined through public advocacy, legal action, and public outreach to defend the core principle of freedom of association against all those who want to twist the First Amendment into an instrument of harassment and political intimidation.