A quick lesson on free speech

The triumphal letter in Thursday’s paper by Ann Bjorneby concerning the ACLU’s silence about Donald Sterling (“No Bark from Rights Watchdog”) is mistaken about any number of issues, not the least of which is the nature of civil liberty and the ACLU. I am a member of the ACLU, but I do not speak for it. Still, I would like to present my sense of what the ACLU does and can do.

With limited resources, the ACLU tries to advocate for and thus preserve our basic civil liberties, the familiar rights of free speech, religion, assembly, the press, privacy, speedy trials, due process and the like as outlined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Specifically, the Constitution mostly talks about these rights in terms of what the government cannot do.

The NBA, despite its interest in securing taxpayer funding for its stadiums, is ostensibly a private organization and thus is not governed by the limitations placed on the government by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Like most private entities, it can make rules that limit the speech of its franchise owners and its employees. Thus, the ACLU cannot meaningfully address what rules this private enterprise makes.

If the free speech rights of employees of private businesses are a vital matter for her, I encourage Ms. Bjorneby to organize her own group and advocate on their behalf. At the same time, however, if she is really in favor of nationalizing privately owned sports leagues and thus making them subject to the Constitutional limits on governmental restrictions of free speech, that is another matter entirely.

Roger A. Berger