Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Sunday, June 24, 2001

Local ACLU snubs those
who dare to disagree

Go figure.

The organization that champions free-speech issues in Hawaii has decided not to invite Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to a First Amendment conference here in large part because of his views.

By a 12-3 vote, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii board last month rejected a subcommittee recommendation to invite Thomas to debate the ACLU's national president at the 2003 Davis Levin First Amendment Conference, which is administered by the ACLU.

This is the same organization that recently decided to support a Manoa man who wants to erect a large Satanist symbol in his front yard and a Makakilo man who wants to plant a male homosexuality symbol outside his townhouse.

It's an organization that normally gets it right when dealing with freedom-of-expression issues.

Not this time.

The board rejected the subcommittee's recommendation -- passed by a 6-0 vote -- for a variety of reasons. The key ones, though, largely reflected the members' contempt for Thomas' right-wing positions.

As board member Daphne Barbee-Wooten wrote in a letter to the subcommittee: "Bringing Clarence Thomas sends a message that the Hawaii ACLU promotes and honors black Uncle Toms who turn their back on civil rights, who violate civil rights laws and ensure civil rights laws are limited."

One board member said Thomas lacked integrity in the area of affirmative action, a likely debate topic.

Another said she didn't want the organization to provide what would amount to a pleasant junket to Hawaii for someone so antithetical to the ACLU's mission.

Some of the objections were downright personal. Thomas' intellectual capacity was questioned. He was said to have frequented strip bars during a trip to Hawaii in the 1980s. Old allegations of sexual harassment were raised.

Justice Antonin Scalia, another conservative member of the court, debated ACLU President Nadine Strossen at last year's conference, and some board members weren't happy with that selection, either.

Attorney Patrick Taomae, the ACLU's Hawaii vice president and one of the three board members who voted to invite Thomas, said the local ACLU has become so worried about being politically correct that it has lost sight of its mission.

Other groups deal with civil rights for particular constituencies, but the ACLU's focus is civil liberties for everyone, he said.

For an organization that defends people's right to freely express themselves, the Thomas vote was hypocritical.

Go figure.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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