updated 10/19/2004 7:36:33 AM ET 2004-10-19T11:36:33

The American Civil Liberties Union has turned down $1.15 million in funding from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, saying new anti-terrorism restrictions demanded by the institutions make it unable to accept their funds.

In a statement on the organization’s Web site, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said ambiguous language in the grants could foster impediments to free speech and includes terms like “bigotry” whose meanings are too vague to support in any funding agreements.

The ACLU’s move is an apparent reaction to new restrictive language by both foundations. The Ford Foundation now bars recipients of its funds from engaging in any activity that “promotes violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state.”

The Rockefeller Foundation’s provisions state that recipients of its funds may not “directly or indirectly engage in, promote, or support other organizations or individuals who engage in or promote terrorist activity.”

Romero said such vague grant language “could have a chilling effect” on civil liberties. “The ACLU cannot effectively defend the rights of all Americans if we do not stand up for those same rights ourselves,” he said.

In a statement, the president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, sought to minimize the dispute.

“We accept and respect that we have a different mission from the ACLU, even while we share the same basic values,” she wrote. “We are proud to support the ACLU’s defense of free speech. We do not, however, believe that a private donor like Ford should support all speech itself (such as speech that promotes bigotry or violence).”

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