The American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) was founded by Robert B. Carleson in 1998. A former Eagle Scout, Bob was concerned about the war being waged against the Boy Scouts of America by the left. Groups, primarily the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were seeking to use the Constitution, which does guarantee “freedom of association,” against the Boy Scouts for using that very freedom.
Looking at the larger picture, Bob saw many instances where the Constitution was being twisted, rewritten and fractured by judges who accepted arguments of lawyers that their particular cause warranted such a verdict. The national legal problem was much larger than just the Boy Scout cases.
He saw the need for a counterweight to the lawyers and institutions that are willing to savage the Constitution to win their particular cases and decided to create an organization that would not be selective in protecting constitutional rights. Instead, it would protect all constitutional rights when under attack, especially by those who claimed the mantel of the Constitution.
Some of our basic rights are more likely to be ignored, pushed aside in favor of other “rights” that some lawyers and some judges consider preferable. The ACRU takes particular interest in defending these rights, among them: freedom of religion rather than freedom from religion; equality under the law regardless of race, religion or national origin; the right to keep and bear arms; individual liberty; property rights; and federalism.
Bob Carleson, recognized as the father of modern welfare reform, served in Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial and presidential administrations. During that time, Bob met and worked with many who held the same view about the perils to the Constitution, so he asked several of them, including Edwin Meese, Judge Robert H. Bork, William Bradford Reynolds, Ambassador Curtin Winsor and Prof. James Q. Wilson, to serve on the policy board of the fledgling ACRU. Over the years, the membership has grown to include Prof. Walter E. Williams and Kenneth W. Starr.
Carleson realized that limited resources would restrict the ACRU to monitoring cases at trial as they developed and file amicus briefs when the cases went up on appeal. The first case that ACRU filed a brief in was the landmark Boy Scouts of America, Monmouth Council v. Dale in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Scouts could not be forced to retain openly gay adult Scout leaders under antidiscrimination laws. The Scouts have a right of expressive association to appoint adult leaders who do not contradict the message and doctrines of the Scouts. This was the first of many Scout-related cases in which the ACRU has filed in support of the Scouts.
To date, the ACRU has filed 19 briefs in 15 critical cases across the country. Its brief in Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board in December 2000 correctly urged what the U.S. Supreme Court did, unanimously, the first time that court addressed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision concerning the recount in that state in that year’s election. ACRU was heavily involved in defending the Mt. Soledad Cross war memorial, and currently has briefs in two 1st Amendment cases in California. ACRU has filed in the D.C. gun case (Heller v. D.C.), which the Supreme Court has just heard and in the Indiana voting-rights case in which the ACLU sued to bar the state from requiring photo ID to prevent voter fraud.
The ACRU has expanded its reach into areas beyond litigation. It now produces articles on law-related subjects in the national press and its spokesmen appear regularly on talk radio and TV around the country. Each week, the ACRU highlights the latest travesty committed by the ACLU.
When Bob Carleson died unexpectedly in 2006, the decision was made immediately that the ACRU could and would continue on the same course that he had set for it. The members of the advisory board stayed on, and his widow, Susan Carleson, who had also worked in the Reagan Administration, took over as chairman and CEO.
Unlike the ACLU which gets multi-million-dollar foundation grants and taxpayer subsidies, the American Civil Rights Union depends upon the generosity of individual Americans.