ACLU Boasts Surprising Allies

ByABC News
March 3, 2005, 5:19 PM

NEW YORK, March 3, 2005 — -- The power and pervasiveness of the American Civil Liberties Union has been on display this week. The national civil rights advocacy group was involved in the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the death penalty for juveniles, the battle over Ten Commandments displays in public buildings and a lawsuit blaming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the alleged torture of foreign fighters.

The network of more than 1,000 civil rights attorneys -- most of them volunteers -- has become one of the most controversial and least understood groups in the country. It gets criticism from many quarters, but also support from places that might be surprising.

Many evangelical Christians, for instance, consider the ACLU an enemy of religion because of the organization's staunch support of the division of church and state.

But Jim Webber, a retired real estate agent turned street preacher, is an ACLU supporter. When Las Vegas casinos tried to stop him from preaching outside their doors, the group launched a successful campaign that allowed Webber and other preachers to stay.

"The ACLU has been my guardian angel," he said. "They have been the ones that have provided the ability for me to stand on the street and talk with people about Jesus Christ."

"I love the description that the ACLU is 'liberty's law firm,' " said ACLU President Nadine Strossen, "and, in fact, our client is always freedom for everybody -- equal rights for everybody."

Strossen says the group will defend anyone whose rights are violated -- even people who disagree with the ACLU, such as conservative minister Jerry Falwell and Christians in Virginia who wanted to perform baptisms in a public park.

"Every now and again, they get it right," said Tony Perkins, a Christian conservative lobbyist for the Family Research Council.

Perkins says these are exceptions to the rule.

"I think historically they've played a very subtle -- gradual but steady -- influence in eroding away the rich soil of America's spiritual heritage," he said.