The ACLU's Not-So-Holy Trinity | Dr. Paul Kengor | Ignatius Insight | December 16, 2010
The ACLU's Not-So-Holy Trinity | Dr. Paul Kengor | Ignatius Insight | December 16, 2010
The ACLU seems unusually active right now. What gives? Maybe it's the Christmas season, which always
seems to spring the ACLU into high gear, making it more miserable than usual.
I tried to ignore the latest round of ACLU legal challenges against religious Americans, but they
became too much. The surge has been remarkably ecumenical, not singling out Protestant or Catholic
First, I got an email from Mat Staver's group, Liberty Counsel, highlighting a bunch of ACLU
lawsuits. Then I read a page-one, top-of-the-fold headline in the National Catholic Register, "Catholic
Hospitals Under New Attack by ACLU," regarding an ACLU request to compel Catholic hospitals to do abortions. Next
was an email from a colleague at Coral Ridge Ministries, forwarding a Washington Times article. Then came another
email from yet another Christian group on lawsuits somewhere in Florida. And on and on.
That was just a sampling of this year's Christmas cheer, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties
Union. At least the ACLU always 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 published 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
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 but that.
Baldwin was an atheist. He was also a onetime communist, who, among other ignoble gestures, wrote a
horrible 1928 book called Liberty Under the Soviets. Notably, he was 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, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Louis Budenz (who later broke
with the party). 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 whole "overthrow-the-government" thing is something our universities tell us is
baloney, a bunch of anti-communist, McCarthyite tripe. In fact, it took me mere minutes of digging into the Comintern
Archives on CPUSA to find actual 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 those archives.
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.
Note the consistency: Defending communists secretly committed to Stalin's Russia had been a central
component of the ACLU's work since its inception.
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 eager
To cite just one example, Christmas 1946, one of the first for returning troops from World War II,
the ACLU initiated legal action 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. They were Corliss Lamont and Harry F. 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. The ways in which
Lamont and Ward were rolled by communists is astounding, with Lamont granted a special Potemkin village tour of the USSR
in 1932, guided by Soviet handlers, where he swallowed the most outrageous propaganda hook, line, and
Lamont was most inspired by the Bolsheviks' militant atheism, especially the churches they converted
into wicked atheist museums. Lamont had already written his atheist classic, The Illusion of Immortality, which
had been his dissertation at Columbia University under John Dewey, godfather to American public education, who himself
had made a Potemkin village tour of the USSR (1928).
Given his leftist atheism, Lamont was at home with the ACLU. Harry Ward, however, was a Methodist
minister, and a professor at Union Theological Seminary. How could he possibly support the ACLU?
That's what made Harry Ward an even bigger dupe. More than supporting the ACLU, Ward was chairman as
Baldwin served as director.
Imagine: a Christian was a founder of the ACLU. That's Harry Ward.
When it came to sheer manipulation by communists, Ward was arguably the single greatest dupe in the
entire history of the American Religious Left. Tellingly, a major Congressional report (July 1953) on communist
activities in the New York City area featured more references to Ward than any other figure—twice as many as the
next most-cited figure, Earl Browder, longtime face of American communism.
I found documents in the Soviet archives where communist officials in Moscow and New York
deliberately targeted Ward to help push their propaganda. In one, a December 1920 letter, Ward is listed by Comintern
officials as a source to get their materials on the shelves at the seminary library.
It wasn't atheistic communism that concerned the Rev. Ward. No, it was anti-communism.
Writing in Protestant Digest in January 1940, long before Senator McCarthy arrived on the scene, Ward admonished
the faithful of the perils of "anti-communism," which was being employed "under the leadership of
[Congressman Martin] Dies in a new red hunt," one "more ruthless than that of [former Attorney General]
Mitchell Palmer." (Both Dies and Palmer were Democrats.)
Alas, Christian charity compels me to concede a key fact, particularly at Christmas time. Among this
not-so-holy trinity of Baldwin-Lamont-Ward, 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 early 1950s, Baldwin began insisting 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 thought. Who could argue with that?
Well, Corliss Lamont could—as could I. F. Stone (who the latest evidence suggests was an
actual Soviet agent), several editors at the Nation, several professors from Columbia, the New York Times,
and other usual suspects. Finding a purge they could finally condemn, they objected to this ACLU "purge."
So, yes, Roger Baldwin's ACLU backed away from its communist leanings.
Sadly, however, Roger 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 do something to change it.
[Editor's Note: A longer version of this article first appeared in
the December 14th online edition of American
Spectator. This column has been reprinted here by kind permission of The Center for Vision and Values at
Grove City College.]
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William P. Clark: The Quiet Catholic Who Changed the World | An interview
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What In Christmas Season Grows: On the Days Leading Up to the
Nativity of the Lord | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Dr. Paul Kengor is a professor
at Grove City College and the executive director of the College's The Center
for Vision and Values. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution
on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Kengor is a frequent
television political commentator and opinion page contributor, as well as the
author of several best-selling books. He is the author of The Judge: William P. Clark,
Ronald Reagan's Top Hand, God and Ronald Reagan, God and George W. Bush, God and Hillary Clinton, The Crusader: Ronald
Reagan and the Fall of Communism, and co-editor with Peter Schweizer of Assessing the Reagan Presidency. His most recent book is
America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century (ISI, 2010).
Kengor has worked for think tanks including the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage
Foundation, and has served on the editorial board of Presidential Studies
Quarterly. He received his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh's
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and his master's degree
from American University's School of International Service. Kengor, a native of
Western Pennsylvania, lives with his wife Susan in Grove City, Pennsylvania,
along with their four children.
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