Former ACLU chief Ira Glasser criticizes organization’s new agenda

The former head of the American Civil Liberties Union has torn the group down for no longer advocating all free speech – saying it now selects cases that fit a new ‘progressive’ agenda.

Ira Glasser, the ACLU’s executive director from 1978 to 2001, lamented the group for recently changing its guidelines to limit the rights it fights to uphold.

“There is now a requirement for ACLU attorneys that before taking on a case defending someone’s free speech, they must ensure that the speech does not offend or threaten to other civil liberties values,” he told Bill Maher on Friday.

After pausing to make a confused expression, he continued, “In other words, before they defend your free speech, they want to see what you’re saying.”

“Is it the ACLU?” No, it’s the government! he insisted.

“The ACLU has become … more of a political partisan, what they call a ‘progressive’ organization,” he said.

Ira Glasser served as executive director of the ACLU from 1978 to 2001.
Real Time with Bill Maher/HBO

As he defended an organization’s right to change, he warned, “But the problem is, there is no other ACLU.”

“And if there isn’t someone who is prepared to defend what you say… Then the government decides who can speak. And that’s the most dangerous thing of all,” he said.

Maher noted how Glasser defended the right of a group of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977, asking his guest, “I guess the Nazis don’t reflect your values?”

Ira Glasser and Bill Maher.
“The ACLU has become… more politically partisan,” Ira Glasser told Bill Maher.
Real Time with Bill Maher/HBO

“That’s a good guess,” Glasser replied to laughter from the audience.

“In fact, most of the speeches we defended did not reflect our values. That’s the goal,” he stressed.

“Everyone is in favor of free speech…as long as it’s theirs,” Glasser said, agreeing with Maher when he said the principle “doesn’t work if there’s a exception”.

Ira Glasser.
Ira Glasser claimed that the ACLU is now selecting cases that fit a new “progressive” program.
Real Time with Bill Maher/HBO

Maher told Glasser he was one of the guests on his ‘Real Time’ show he would most like to hug because his work had ‘affected my life’, saying freedom of speech was the “business” of the outspoken host.

“I’m very aware – always have been – that I was able to really enjoy free speech, especially here on HBO and ABC before they saw me,” he joked. .

He was referring to his previous show, “Politically Incorrect,” which was axed by ABC in 2002 following a series of controversies that even brought then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to warn Maher to watch himself, saying Americans “have to watch what they say.”

The ACLU declined to comment early Monday.

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