This blog post was originally written by Dr. Paul Kengor , who is a member of Young America's Foundation's campus lecture program .
version of this article first appeared in American
The ACLU seems unusually active right now. Maybe it’s the
Christmas season, which seems to make the ACLU more miserable than usual.
I tried to ignore the latest round of ACLU legal challenges, but
they became too much. The surge has been remarkably ecumenical, not singling
out Protestant or Catholic interests, whether challenging a public school in
Florida or trying to compel a Catholic hospital to do abortions. At least the
ACLU finds a way to unite Protestants and Catholics.
In the interest of faith and charity, I’d like to add my own
ecumenical offering—a history lesson. It concerns some fascinating material I
recently discovered on the ACLU’s early founders, especially three core
figures: Roger Baldwin, Harry Ward, and Corliss Lamont. I can only provide a
snapshot here, but you’ll get the picture.
First, Roger Baldwin: Baldwin was the founder of the ACLU, so far
to the left that he was hounded by the Justice Department of the progressive’s
progressive, Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps it was a faith thing. Wilson was a
progressive, but he was also a devout Christian, and Roger Baldwin was anything
Baldwin was an atheist. He was also a pro-Soviet communist, though
smart enough not to join Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Other early officials of
the ACLU, which was founded almost exactly the same time as the American
Communist Party, included major party members like William Z. Foster and
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Communists used the ACLU to deflect questions from the
U.S. government over whether they were loyal to the USSR, were serving Joe
Stalin in some capacity, and were committed to the overthrow of the American
That “overthrow-the-government” thing is something our
universities insist is a bunch of anti-communist, McCarthyite tripe. In fact,
it took me mere minutes of digging into the Comintern Archives on CPUSA to find
fliers and formal proclamations from the American Communist Party publicly
advocating precisely that objective. (Click here to view some of the documents.) I also found the ACLU rife throughout
So bad had been the ACLU in aiding and abetting American communists
that various legislative committees, federal and state, considered whether it
was a communist front. The 1943 California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on
Un-American Activities reported that the ACLU “may be definitely classed as a
communist front.” The committee added that “at least 90 percent of its [the
ACLU’s] efforts are expended on behalf of communists who come into conflict
with the law.” That 90-percent figure was consistent with a major report
produced by Congress a decade earlier, January 17, 1931.
In my research, I also found constant approving references to the
ACLU in CPUSA’s flagship publication, the Daily
Worker. The Daily
Worker loved the ACLU. Moreover, I was struck by how early the ACLU
had been challenging not just Christians but their most joyous holiday, with
the Daily Worker’s
To cite just one example, Christmas 1946, the ACLU sought to stop
the singing of Christmas carols in California public schools. For that, the
communists were most grateful to Baldwin and the boys.
Aside from Roger Baldwin, there were two other especially
influential figures comprising this not-so-holy ACLU trinity: Corliss Lamont
and the Rev. Harry Ward. Covering these two adequately here is impossible. I’ve
devoted probably about 10,000 words to Lamont alone in my book, Dupes—both
men were precisely that: dupes. For here, suffice to say that the ways in which
Lamont and Ward were rolled by communists is astounding.
Alas, Christian charity compels me to concede a key fact,
particularly at Christmas time. Among this not-so-holy trinity, there was a
measure of redemption for Baldwin at least. Baldwin eventually, after the Red
Terror, after the Great Purge, after the Ukrainian famine, after the Hitler-Stalin
Pact, after millions of rotting corpses, after the gulag, after the communists
had violated every imaginable civil liberty, awakened to the stench of the
Soviet system. He finally saw communism, and communists, as a genuine concern.
By the 1950s, Baldwin insisted that ACLU officers take a
non-communist oath. Call Baldwin crazy, but he figured that any ACLU member who
held allegiance to “totalitarian dictatorship” was not truly serious about
civil liberties. Perhaps they were publicly exploiting American civil liberties
to privately support a nation (the USSR) that had no civil liberties? Good
So, yes, Roger Baldwin’s ACLU backed away from its communist
Sadly, however, Baldwin’s ACLU never seems to have shirked from
its atheist leanings, which haunt us still today.
Could it be that the ACLU’s alleged onetime commitment to
defending communism has shifted to an apparent commitment to defending atheism?
It certainly seems like it, especially this time of year. And if the ACLU
doesn’t like that perception, it should change it.