A.C.L.U. vs. the Spirit of the Law

The ACLU needs to get better at understanding law—not just the letter. It needs to understand the spirit.

As ex-ACLU board member Waldo Jaquith puts it: What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. 

Letter vs. Spirit

You’re driving your car. It’s 3:00 a.m. The road you’re on is in the middle of nowhere, an open plain ahead of you as you descend down a hill to an intersection where a stop sign instructs you to stop. 

Why does it want you to stop? What’s the objective? Well, under normal driving conditions (that is, at least some level of congestion on the road), the objective is safety. That stop sign is there to make sure you don’t get plowed into by another vehicle, and that you don’t do the plowing, either.

But in our scenario, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, what’s the objective of the stop sign? There isn’t another vehicle for miles in any direction. So… do you stop? Or do you just take a quick look around and keep on truckin’, as it were?

The Letter of the Law

Let’s say you believe in the letter of the law. You stop. Okay, so a little time is lost, a little gas is wasted, and you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. No harm done, and sticklers are gratified.

The Situation

Now let’s change the scenario, just a little. You’re back on that downhill slope. You see nothing ahead of you but the stop sign. Suddenly, in your rearview mirror, you’re nearly blinded by the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler, and then you’re nearly deafened by the sound of the driver leaning on his horn as the massive vehicle hurtles toward you with increasing speed.

The Spirit of the Law

This is a situation. Everything is a situation. Life requires us to use our brains rather than follow dogmatic laws and rules blindly. If you obey the letter of the law in the second scenario and stop at that stop sign, with the truck overtaking you because it has lost its brakes, will the objective of safety be met, or will you and possibly the truck driver as well die a grisly, horrible death?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens freedom of speech. The term “first amendment rights” should be echoing in your brain right about now. And the ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, is a famous non-profit organization dedicated to protecting all civil liberties, including free speech, and they've been harshly criticized a number of times for their efforts (e.g., protecting the rights of a neo-Nazi group to march in Skokie, IL, forty years ago). Most recently, they defended the civil liberties of the alt-right to hold a rally in Charlottesville, VA about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

There were many factors contributing to the tragic outcome of that rally, where three people died and many were injured, including the apparent hands-off approach of local law enforcement. But it’s possible that without the ACLU’s involvement, the rally would have ended differently.

The ACLU claims to involve themselves on a case-by-case basis. If that is true, it seems to me they are still far too attached to the letter of the law. In this case, that law would be the first amendment.

In a country (i.e., the U.S.) where civil liberties are guaranteed for all citizens, including those of African descent, or those adhering to the religions of Judasim or Islam, or those whose sexual orientation or gender identity are non-conforming, or those who are women, where is the spirit of the law when one group demands the right to spew hatred and hurtle threats and brandish deadly weapons against any or all of the other groups and call it “free speech?” Where are the rights to liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for those against whom the hate “speech” and violence is aimed? 

Waldo Jaquith, a former board member of the ACLU in Virginia, resigned his position and posted this on Twitter: “What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. I won’t be a fig leaf for Nazis.”

Fig leaf. The term brings scriptural references to mind. 

It’s time the ACLU got better at understanding—and standing up for—the spirit of the law, even at the expense of the letter of it.

Facebook Says: No Christian Cross Emoji

On June 9, in honor of Pride Month and not long after the death of the man who created the original LGBTQ Rainbow Flag (Gilbert Baker), Facebook introduced a rainbow flag emoji, available alongside the usual icons that appear for responses to posts and messages. I used it many times, myself. Before the month was out, a Facebook user began a movement to add another emoji to the list: a Christian cross.

Throwing Shade on the Women's Marches?

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, likes to teach dog owners that preventing their dogs from focusing on trouble (a letter carrier, another dog, a trash truck) is to give her a sudden, physical distraction as soon as that focus seems likely. This might be a gentle push on her backside, or it might be a sharp tug-and-release on her leash.

After reading the January 24 New York Times article by Jenna Wortham, I think what I got was a less-than-gentle push on my backside. For sure, the tone of this article distracted me from the enthusiasm I have felt since leaving the Boston Women’s March.

This is war.

For over a decade, I've written novels about gay teens. I'm a cisgender, straight advocate, and I write these stories because I hate injustice, I hate fear-driven paranoia, and I'm distressed at the vulnerability of LGBTQ teens.

When I began writing, I was certain that I would not see marriage equality in my lifetime. I knew very little of the hell that trans individuals go through. I knew nothing at all about what intersex means.

And since I began writing, I have celebrated win after win after win for LGBTQ people.

Then came Trump.

Electoral College Needs an Appendectomy

Every day since the November 8, 2016 election, we’ve seen the number of citizens who cast their presidential vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump increase. That lead is now roughly TWO AND A HALF MILLION VOTES.

Dear Governor McCrory...

I know you're suffering. And I have some information that I hope will help you and your family out of your current troubles.

As an advocate for personal truth, and in particular an advocate for the rights of LGBTQ citizens, I have read with interest a number of articles about you. In them, you describe the difficulties you and your wife have had to face as a result of North Carolina's HB2, the law you signed that requires people to use public facilities according to the gender on their birth certificates and limits the civil rights of LGBTQ people in general.

Black and White

It’s the end of a week full of horrible events.

The shooting death of African American Alton Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana… The shooting death of African American Philando Castile by police officers in Falcon Heights, Minnesota… The shooting deaths of five white police officers by a single African American in Dallas, Texas, apparently as retribution for the week’s two previous events and for so many other shootings of African American men by police….

Orlando: Phoenix Rising

From the ashes of destruction, so the legend goes, rises the Phoenix, renewed and reborn. The horrible, burning agony—physical and emotional—of the tragedy in Orlando will give rise to a glorious spirit. We can see it appearing already.

Since the Stonewall riots of 1969, the spirit within LGBTQ people has been glowing brighter and stronger every year. The last few years have been the most remarkable yet, because the spirit has been spreading to people who are becoming advocates.

The chemistry of hatred

It’s a simple chemical reaction: Apply fear to ignorance and you get hatred. We’re seeing far, far too much of it lately.

Here in Massachusetts, the state legislature has been debating whether to pass a bill granting citizens the right to enter public bathrooms according to their true gender. I recently heard one misguided legislator insist that if the bill passed, women and girls would no longer be protected against assault. I understand what this guy and many other people who’ve said similar things are afraid of. What I think we need to get at is why they’re afraid.

Robin Reardon: Reading Aloud

When I have a chance to do a reading or a book signing event, I love connecting with readers. And after the events, they often ask me whether I’ve made recordings of the excerpts I read to them.

Well, now I have. There’s a new page on my website dedicated to excerpts I’ve recorded from my books. So far there are recordings from four books. If this feature is popular, I’d love to do more. This page is accessible from the Items of Interest, which you’ll see if you scroll down on my home page.

So… give it a try? And do let me know what you think, good or bad. Thanks!

Mistaken Identity?

Hello, little girl. My name is… well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how much trouble I'm planning to go to just to get to a place where I can attack you. Let me tell you all about it.


See, I grew up twisted. Blame it on abuse, blame it on a mother who was domineering, blame it on whatever you like. The thing is, I hate females. And something inside me tells me I’ll feel better if I beat you up, rape you, maybe even kill you. And I just came up with the best friggin' idea for how to get you alone so I can do horrible things to you. BATHROOMS!

Fear the Gay!

Although the discriminatory laws passed in recent days in North Carolina and Mississippi (with a close call in Georgia) claim to be about religious freedom, there is no question that the primary target is members of the LGBTQ community.


These three laws have subtle differences; NC's law seems to focus sharply on transgender individuals and bathroom usage; GA's law would have focused largely on marriage; and MI's law shoots squarely at the heads of all LGBT individuals. But they, and all recent "religious protection" laws passed in the last several months (such as Indiana, Arkansas, the list goes on), have the same goal: Protect good Christians from ... from what, exactly?

Make your vote count... FOR THE NEXT 30 YEARS

If you identify with or support U.S. citizens who don’t fall into the “straight, cisgender” category, you have an opportunity that is not likely to come again in your lifetime. And the rest of your lifetime is about how long the outcome of this opportunity will matter.

With the death of Antonin Scalia, one of the least LGBT-friendly voices on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) for the past thirty years is silenced. The question is what the next voice will say.

Devilish details keep minority groups isolated

Different in a threatening way. Disturbingly different; alien. To perceive a person or people as alien to oneself. Each of these phrases defines “other.” I confess that I hadn’t known the word could be used as a verb, but it exemplifies perfectly the way far too many of us treat “others” of us whom we don’t understand.

As the author of books and stories about gay teens, I tend to notice situations in which LGBTQ individuals are othered. Examples are all around us, from the notorious Kim Davis to state-based Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs, introduced because “the advance of LGBT rights has encroached upon religious liberty”) to fanatics like the Westborough Baptist Church to most of the current candidates vying for the GOP nomination to the wanton murders of trans individuals (more last year than ever before).