The ACLU Has Never Done a Damn Thing for Me

It’s actually worse than that in terms of the ACLU. When I was a school counselor in a public high school, the ACLU screwed me royally, even though I had helped them with the case of a student. A federal district court found for the student in a freedom of speech case, and I was a member of the school staff who was embarrassed publicly. But readers, let’s forget that specific case for a moment and get back to the complete lack of support from the ACLU, even though I was a member for some time, and a member of the ACLU’s anti-death penalty committee in a New England state.

In 1989, I told a school principal at a public school to which I was assigned as a reading specialist/consultant that I would not have been able to lead the school in the Pledge’s  (the Pledge of Allegiance) recitation during Flag Day ceremonies at the school. When I told the principal why I was not a candidate for that “honor,” a period of harassment and chastisement, that also included most faculty members (the faculty harassment was of a garden variety kind), went on for days after I filed a labor grievance at the beginning of the principal’s harassment for not being sufficiently patriotic.

The ACLU refused to support me, citing the fact that I wasn’t actually forced to recite the Pledge. Perhaps if I had been placed on an Inquisition-style rack, the ACLU may have come to my defense. And none of this happened in isolation. A fellow activist/protester who worked for civil rights told me at that time of the ACLU’s disturbing neglect of those issues in the same geographical locale.

The next time I contacted the ACLU for help was when I looked for guidance while filing a motion to expunge the FBI record that that agency kept on me going back to the time when I became a war resister during the Vietnam War era. Despite having no criminal record, or even a civil infraction on my record (perhaps I had been doing something wrong over all those decades), the FBI still maintained that record and it took bringing a case against them in federal district court to have that record expunged, and it was only through dumb luck and a sympathetic US attorney that the record was finally expunged. I was forced to bring the case to court myself, as I was offered no help, except from a private attorney who supplied the template for the case.

My last attempt to use the ACLU came a few weeks ago after years of harassment in the town where I now live in Massachusetts. My interests and the interests of some local government officials and town workers came into conflict when I politely asked the son of a local “power” holder and town worker to change a behavior from an abutting property that caused an irritating (literally) result for my family members.

Within days of my request, another town official and employee began a three-pronged, months-long harassment routine against me for having had the audacity to buck local interests and power.

That harassment morphed into a years-long program of harassment that goes on up until today that has involved other town employees. I am shunned at the town government office building and I have received the same treatment at the town’s garbage dump and recycling facility. Think here in terms of liberal Massachusetts.

Other forms of harassment that have come from unidentified sources have included driving over the grass at the border of our property and leaving garbage at the border of our property.

When I applied to fill a school committee vacancy on the local regional school district board and was denied that position for obvious reasons, I went to the Massachusetts Commission for Human Rights and they wrote a complaint against the town that I decided not to pursue. Since there was no economic benefit in the school board position, Massachusetts does not recognize the right to persevere in such a complaint. So why bother?

I noted in my appeal for help to the ACLU that I was also being targeted for shunning and other harassment because I had written about these incidents in a local newspaper, an action that some in power here did not like. They do not want their dirty laundry aired in public! Coincidentally, I wrote the article for a local paper to support both Colin Kaepernick and a football player at a local high school who had been harassed for taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Here is the ACLU of Massachusetts’ response to my appeal for help:

Dear Mr. Lisnoff,

I am a volunteer  with the ACLU of Massachusetts (ACLUM).  I have been asked by Attorney — , who I have copied on this email, to respond to your inquiry requesting our assistance.

Regrettably, this office is not in a position to investigate your situation or provide you with legal guidance.   We are a small organization that operates statewide and we have limited resources, especially in these trying times.   We suggest that you contact the Anti-Defamation League of New England…

We wish you well and hope that you are able to have the situation resolved satisfactorily.


So, readers, the drift in these matters is easy to decipher. I once thought for a short time that the ACLU’s record of not supporting communists who were personally tormented and lost employment during McCarthyism was an unfortunate blip in the ACLU’s record, but that has been hardly the case over the years during which I have interacted with the ACLU. And those at the ACLU must know that the Anti-Defamation League would not be interested in doing something for me. That organization does identify cases of anti-Semitism, but seldom offers substantive help in cases like mine, and they have a track record of supporting Zionism. They will respond to acts of anti-Semitism by neo-Nazis and white supremacists against Jews, but my past history trying to get support from that group points to the fact that I seem not to be deserving of help. Two rabbis in nearby communities have identified some actions I write about here as examples of anti-Semitism.

Both the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League care about large, overarching principles. People are sometimes helped, or situations mitigated, but the people behind those principles seem to me to be secondary to those organizations. That has been my experience dealing with both organizations.

In positive news about the ACLU in Texas (” Migrant Children Secretly Held in Hampton Inn Hotels Before Expulsion from U.S,” Democracy Now, July 28, 2020), the ACLU is stepping up to the plate and defending innocent children against the fascistic Trump administration.

Returning to the issue of local harassment, here is what Massachusetts law says:

Section 43A: Criminal harassment; punishment

Section 43A. (a) Whoever willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, shall be guilty of the crime of criminal harassment and shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than 21/2 years or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

There is a thread here. Stand out in a community as being outspoken and different in some respect and they, those with power, will make a person pay. Anti-racist protesters are finding that out all over the US!

Looking at properties whose owners display huge US flags on a daily walk, it struck me that the top four countries with Covid-19 infections are all right-wing states with governments that give a pittance of support to their people. Here they are in the order of cases: The US, Brazil, India, and Russia (“Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?” AlJazeera, August 1, 2020). Civil rights and civil liberties don’t matter much in those countries.


Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).