ACLU Declines Ford and Rockefeller Grants Due to Restrictive Funding Agreement; Painful but Principled Decision to Put Civil Liberties First

October 17, 2004 12:00 am

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Statement of Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director


NEW YORK — This administration and its war on terror have created a climate of fear that extends far beyond national security concerns and threatens the civil liberties of all Americans. Make no mistake about it — too many of the policies inspired by the Patriot Act fail to make us any safer. Indeed, we have lost much already, and we have much more to lose.

The American Civil Liberties Union feels that loss acutely today. The board and leadership of the ACLU have made the painful but principled decision to turn down $1.15 million in future funding from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations rather than accept restrictive funding agreements that might adversely affect the civil liberties of the ACLU and other grantees.

It is a sad day when two of this country’s most beloved and respected foundations feel they are operating in such a climate of fear and intimidation that they are compelled to require thousands of recipients to accept vague grant language which could have a chilling effect on civil liberties. But the ambiguities are simply too significant to ignore or accept. They include potential prohibitions on free speech and other undefined activities such as “bigotry” as part of a misconceived war on terror. Indeed, vague terms such as “bigotry” often have charged meanings in a post-9/11 world. The ACLU cannot effectively defend the rights of all Americans if we do not stand up for those same rights ourselves.

As painful as this is financially — the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have been true friends and allies — this is the right decision. Ironically, the funding from each organization would have strengthened our ability to fight the most dangerous elements of the Patriot Act and the government’s war on terror.

We will continue that fight nevertheless. Regrettably, however, we will wage that battle with diminished financial resources. The loss of funding is significant and it will have profound implications for our programs. But while it may weaken our finances, it also strengthens our resolve.

Let us be clear, we do not support terrorism. We all have a role to play in protecting our country from those who would harm us further. But we should not trample — or allow others to trample — on our most valued principles that have made us the beacon of freedom around the world. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure an America that is both safe and free.

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