The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come under fire for their legal support of organizers of the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally held last weekend in Charlottesville, to include being blamed by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe for the rally where the violence unfolded.

Speaking to National Public Radio, Governor McAuliffe said:

The City of Charlottesville asked for that to be moved out of downtown Charlottesville to a park about a mile and a half away to a park with a lot of open fields. That was the place where it should have been,” McAuliffe said. “We were unfortunately sued by the ACLU. The judge ruled against us. That rally should not have been in the middle of downtown.”

The ACLU has now responded with their own forceful defense of their work, citing their long commitment to the First Amendment and free speech in the United States. Both Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, and Claire Gastanaga, executive director for ACLU of Virginia, issued statements rebuking Gov. McAuliffe’s statement to the media.

The ACLU of Virginia does not support violence. We do not support Nazis. We support the Constitution and laws of the United States,” Gastanaga wrote, “But let’s be clear: our lawsuit challenging the city to act constitutionally did not cause violence nor did it in any way address the question whether demonstrators could carry sticks or other weapons at the events. We asked the city to adhere to the U.S. Constitution and ensure people’s safety at the protest. It failed to do so.”

Romero, speaking more broadly about the ACLU’s efforts across the United States, wrote directly to the core issue of free speech and assembly that is being openly debated across the country right now.

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We fundamentally believe that our democracy will be better and stronger for engaging and hearing divergent views. Racism and bigotry will not be eradicated if we merely force them underground. Equality and justice will only be achieved if society looks such bigotry squarely in the eyes and renounces it.”

“Violence — even when accompanied by speech — does not garner the protection of the First Amendment. It is also true that the airing of ideas — no matter how repugnant or loathsome — does not necessarily lead to violence. The violence of this weekend was not caused by our defense of the First Amendment.”

The ACLU has a long history of defending the free speech rights of hate groups like the KKK, American Nazis, and similar organizations. Most famously and commonly invoked example was their successful defense of the 1977 Nazi march through Skokie, Illinois, a community densely populated with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Since their defense of “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler’s constitutional rights, the ACLU has sounded like a lone voice invoking constitutional rights in the ongoing discussion over hate groups and the effect of their message on society.

Many supporters of the ACLU have vocalized their intent to stop donating and supporting the ACLU over their defense of white nationalist speech.

Image by Evan Nesterak via Wikipedia