By Charles Kiker
Several years ago it was reported that a document was circulated without identifying its source, and people were asked what they thought of it. Many thought that it was anti-American propaganda, probably circulated by Communists. The document in question was the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
I don’t know of any survey or poll concerning the American Civil Liberties Union, but if one were taken my guess is that the ACLU would not fare terribly well in public opinion for much the same reason that the Bill of Rights was suspect in the minds of a considerable percentage of those involved in the aforementioned informal survey. The Bill of Rights provides protection for people who might otherwise be subject to a harsh majority. The ACLU seeks to apply the Bill of Rights to all residents within our borders, popular or not.
The ACLU defends religious liberty. The ACLU has defended the right to freedom of expression of the very unpopular—justly unpopular in my opinion—Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS. In a case that began in Plano, Texas in 2003, the ACLU defended the right of an elementary school student to distribute candy canes with a religious message on them. More recently, in 2011, the ACLU defended the rights of school children, again in Plano, to wear rosaries or other clothing with a religious message. The ACLU vigorously opposes, on the grounds of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, government sponsored prayer in public schools.
The ACLU has defended other unpopular causes, probably most notable the right of the Ku Klux Klan to peaceably assemble.
My first personal involvement with the ACLU came in 2000 when Will Harrell, then Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas, called me regarding my take on the Tulia Drug Sting. I described my take on events and what I had learned of the activities of the undercover agent. Will Harrell’s response: “We’re gonna get that [expletive deleted]. Excuse the language, Rev.”
In subsequent months and years, I developed camaraderie with Will. Patricia and I made numerous trips to Austin working with ACLU of Texas people in lobbying for a bill to require more than just the testimony of a single witness to convict someone of a crime. We were amazed that we could actually go in representatives’ and senators’ offices. Rarely could we speak with a representative or a senator, but we were always cordially received by the staff person associated with our particular concern. With our cooperation the ACLU of Texas began quoting the Bible in some of its brochures! “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained” (Deuteronomy 19:15). Both Jesus (Matthew 18:16), and Paul (2 Corinthians 13:1) alluded to the passage from Deuteronomy. One representative that I did get to talk to in person was what I would call a “law n’ order” person. She was also one who wore her religion on her sleeve, had a Bible visibly on her desk, and was fond of quoting it. She was in legislative session, but a staff person told her that a minister would like to speak with her. I was surprised that she came out of session to meet me. I told her that I hoped for her support on the bill to require more than a single witness, and cited the Bible verses above. She said, “Oh that was for those days. Things are different now.” Of course things are different now! But she was very selective in where she acknowledged the difference. She is a situation ethicist without knowing it! She did not support the bill.
I had opportunity to appear at a legislative hearing on the bill. I cited the above verses and commented, “Moses, Jesus, and Paul: seems like pretty good company to me.”
The police union had an army of paid lobbyists opposing the bill, but an amended version, exempting police officers but including so-called confidential informants did pass and was signed into law by the governor. That “Tulia bill” as it was called was influential in the overturning of the Dallas sheetrock scandal in which confidential informants turned in gypsum powder representing it as powder cocaine.
I subsequently became a member of the governing board of ACLU of Texas. I first filled a vacancy created by the retirement of a board member before his term had expired, and then was elected to a full four year term. I had a very good relationship with Jews, agnostics, secularists, Christians, and some Muslims on the board. I was known as “the Rev.” On one occasion Will Harrell was going through some troubling times, and readily accepted my offer to pray with him. The chairman of the board, a practicing Jew, came into the room where we were, saw that I was praying with him, and quietly left.
The quarterly travel to board meetings, usually in Austin but sometimes in other cities, became just too difficult for me, and I resigned my position on the board near the end of my elected four year term. The meeting where I tendered my resignation was in El Paso. When we had completed an afternoon session, we visited the fence. I saw children come running to the fence, hoping someone would slip a dollar or whatever between the chain link mesh. Then that evening we dined at a sumptuous restaurant within little more than shouting distance from the fence. I was conscience stricken by our opulence contrasted with the poverty no more than a few hundred yards from where we dined. At our session the next morning, I was given a few minutes to say farewell and took the opportunity to reflect on Biblical justice which is a part of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Do I agree with every position that the ACLU takes? Do I agree with every sentence in either the Republican or Democratic Party platforms? Do I agree with every position of the United Methodist Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, or any other religious organization?
This post is part of Dr. Kiker’s life story which is currently appearing in weekly installments in a Tulia paper.