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The principle

Apr 6, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

One of the biggest, most-convenient targets of political conservatives is the American Civil Liberties Union.

From the days of George H.W. Bush calling Michael Dukakis a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" in a 1988 presidential debate, the organization routinely bears withering attacks from conservative politicians. It's seen by some as the personification of wimpy, bleeding heart permissiveness, coddling and defending causes that don't deserve protection.

Anyone who pays attention knows that the ACLU belies that cliche routinely, and this week it happened in Wyoming.

A group called WyWatch, a crusading anti-abortion organization, had received permission to post a series of posters at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. They packed a graphic punch, combining text and pictures to illustrate the physical realities of abortion.

A liberal group this isn't.

But when a state government official decided unilaterally that the signs couldn't be seen in the prominent parts of the Capitol and moved them to a tunnel far beneath the building, WyWatch protested.

The protest didn't get far until a cooperating agency offered to intervene on WyWatch's behalf.

It was the ACLU.

The intervention worked. As detailed in a story today on page 3, the State of Wyoming acknowledged that it violated WyWatch's first amendment rights by denying public access to the Capitol. The state must pay WyWatch's legal fees and a nominal penalty.

The money isn't the issue. The principle is, and the ACLU is a group dedicated to principle ahead of politics. It's true that the ACLU tackles more cases that can be labeled liberal than conservative, but that's a reflection of outside forces, not the agency itself.

Chances are most people in conservative Wyoming have negative feelings about the ACLU. In this case, at least, the facts trump the rhetoric. It would be to our nation's benefit if that were the case more often.

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