The Forsyth County Tea Party welcomed a somewhat unlikely guest speaker for a recent meeting -- the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.
There was not always agreement when Debbie Seagraves spoke, particularly on the topics of religion and the organization’s history. But attendee Lynn Robertson said she was pleased the talk stayed civil.
“We’re not going to agree on our country being based on Christianity. That is our belief, or my belief,” Robertson said. “But there was no argument. There was no escalation.
"She explained her case and that she knew we were not going to change each other’s mind ... and it was a good discussion.”
The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, works in courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights, including First Amendment rights, due process and privacy.
During her talk Thursday night, Seagraves tried to clear up some of the misconceptions about the organization. For example, the ACLU is non-partisan, only takes on cases when someone asks for representation, and accepts no federal funding unless it’s mandated by a judge after the ACLU wins a case, Seagraves said.
Edie Griebler said she was “surprised to find out that people have to request for them to represent someone.”
“I had been under the impression that the ACLU kind of goes out and looks for these cases,” she said. “The fact that their mission is to defend the constitution, the bill of rights, was very surprising.”
Seagraves talked about several cases the ACLU has handled, including that of an American-born citizen who was deported, the right for a Nazi organization to march, and a Muslim woman refusing to remove her headdress in a civil court.
The organization’s members don’t always believe in the message being delivered by various people and organizations they represent, only the right to freedom of speech and religion, Seagraves said.
“A lot of the reasons that so many folks end up not liking us is because we are the major defender of speech, and there’s truly only one kind of speech that needs defending and that’s unpopular speech," she said to some disagreement. "Because if it’s popular speech, it doesn’t need defense.
“We understand that if the least popular among us can lose their right to use a public forum, than any of us can lose our right.”
Steve Voshall, the Forsyth County Tea Party’s founding member, said he invited Seagraves to hear a different perspective.
“A big part of what the Tea Party does is educate,” he said. "Questions that she took and answers that she gave were very, very enlightening."
Voshall added that “we need to understand how the other side, or what we perceive as the other side, thinks, and how we can work to find a common ground."
“I learned that there’s a lot more common grounds than we thought there were, but there’s also some grounds that are very, very, extremely different."