ACLU Board Committee Withdraws Proposed Guidelines That Have Been Criticized as Limiting Dissent by Board Members

July 11, 2006 12:00 am

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Statement of ACLU President Nadine Strossen

NEW YORK – A committee of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Board of Directors recently withdrew proposed guidelines that have been criticized as limiting dissent by Board members. We will ensure that any description of Board members’ obligations to the ACLU accurately reflects the ACLU’s abiding commitment to the free speech rights of all, including ACLU Board members.

Every board of every non-profit organization is called upon from time to time to discuss sensitive, private and confidential matters. No board can function unless its members take seriously their ethical, legal and fiduciary responsibilities to respect the confidentiality of those aspects of its proceedings. A committee created by the ACLU’s 83-member Board of Directors proposed guidelines that endeavored to outline Board members’ fiduciary obligations consistent with the ACLU’s civil libertarian principles, including respect for both free speech and privacy. The Board established this committee on Board members’ “Rights and Responsibilities” in order to improve its governance structure and internal functioning. That is a worthy goal for any organization — and a challenging one.

The committee has now decided to withdraw certain passages from its proposed guidelines that were strongly criticized by many Board members, as well as by Executive Director Anthony Romero and other staff members, on the grounds that those passages might have some chilling effect on Board members’ freedom of speech and dissent (even though that was not the committee’s intent). Any such impact would fly in the face of core ACLU principles.

The government’s current assaults on our civil liberties demand our Board members’ full energies. The ACLU is vigorously pursuing litigation against many of the Bush Administration’s abuses of power: torture and rendition, illegal domestic spying, and unprecedented secrecy. We are proud of our important work to defend the principles viewed here and around the world as so fundamental to America.

The July 6, 2006 memorandum rescinding the proposals at issue is online at:

The original Rights and Responsibilities committee report is online at:

Attachments to the committee report are online at:

A transcript of the June 17, 2006 board discussion of the committee report is online at: 20060617transcriptaclurightsresponsibilitiescmtereport.pdf

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