The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) on behalf of gay right-wing figure Milo Yiannopoulos and other entities.
The WMATA is prohibiting Yiannopoulos from promoting his book (yes, the one that only sold 152 copies in the UK) on trains and buses after passengers complained. The ACLU is arguing this violates the First Amendment and his right to free speech.
ACLU et al. v. WMATA also includes plaintiffs PETA, Carafem (a non-profit that provides abortion and family planning services), and the ACLU.
The WMATA is a government agency that prohibits ads which ‘influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions’. The PETA ad encourages going vegan, while the Carafem ad promotes a 10-week after abortion pill. The ACLU ad in question shows the text of the First Amendment in English, Spanish, and Arabic.
In a blog post aptly titled ‘How Could You Represent Someone Like Milo Yiannopoulos?’, the ACLU explains their decision to defend him.
‘Here at the ACLU, we vehemently disagree with Mr. Yiannopoulos’ views,’ James Esseks, Director of LGBT & HIV Project writes. ‘We work hard, every day, with the very communities he targets, to fight for equal rights and dignity for all. We recognize that his words cause grievous pain to many individuals, their families, and their loved ones.’
So why defend him? Free speech.
‘Protecting the First Amendment rights of all of these speakers is crucial to the ability of civil rights movements to make the change we need to make,’ the post continues. It then cites other First Amendment cases as prior examples. ‘That means that we, as a country and a community, have to put up with a hefty dose of pain from people like Milo Yiannopoulos. But ask Constance McMillen, the NAACP, and women across the country if the First Amendment has advanced their equality. We think so, which is why we need to keep protecting it.’
ACLU sticking by their principles
Unsurprisingly, many people disagree with the ACLU’s decision.
Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who defended Chelsea Manning, is one such person who disagrees. He released the following statement about the suit:
Here is my personal statement on today's ACLU lawsuit defending that horrible person. I speak only for myself. pic.twitter.com/4KzsoqnmUn
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) August 9, 2017
Calling Yiannopoulos ‘vile’, he ended his statement apologizing ‘for any platform and validation that he receives’.
The ACLU responded to someone criticizing Strangio’s statement:
Whatever you think of our principles, we stick by them. We believe in our employees’ freedom of speech, too. https://t.co/yPqTDIEEQT
— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 10, 2017
Strangio certainly isn’t alone as well.
it's amazing how there's nothing anyone can do about black women being kicked off FB for posting about harassment but Milo has ACLU lawyers
— andrea grimes (@andreagrimes) August 9, 2017
pretty cool how we all donated to the @aclu after the election and they used that money to support milo nice nice nice
— Robyn Kanner (@robynkanner) August 9, 2017
imo, defending Milo and Nazis in Skokie and what have you gives the ACLU credibility on the right. It’s a branding thing.
Don’t @ me. LOL.
— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) August 9, 2017
"Standing with people who want you dead is actually for your own good" https://t.co/Tw2lysAaZk
— Studio Glibly (@NoTotally) August 9, 2017
However, others are defending the ACLU’s decision, citing the organization as being fair and not hypocritical.
I hate Milo just as much as anyone else but he has just as much a right to free speech and I appreciate the ACLU for not being hypocritical.
— דילן דופלט (@DylanDoppelt) August 9, 2017
— Janie Jones (@janieqjones) August 9, 2017
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 10, 2017