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American Civil Liberties Union

Roger Baldwin, Founding Member of The ACLU.

The American Civil Liberties Union (1920-present)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman and others. The stated goal of ACLU is to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States.” The ACLU, is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization and has grown from a roomful of civil liberties activists to an organization of more than 500,000 members and supporters. The ACLU provides lawyers and legal expertise in cases where it believes an individual’s or the government or other citizens are challenging group of individuals’ rights. The ACLU handles nearly 6,000 court cases annually (2005) from offices in almost every state. In many cases where it does not provide legal representation, the ACLU submits amicus curiae briefs in support of its positions. The ACLU has never officially supported or opposed a political candidate, and is not aligned  with any political party, though it has been harshly critical of various elected officials of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party over the years.

Since its founding, the ACLU has been involved in many important legal actions. A few of the most significant include:

• In 1925, the ACLU persuaded John T. Scopes to defy Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in a court test. Clarence Darrow, a member of the ACLU National Committee, headed Scopes’ legal team. The ACLU lost the case and Scopes was fined $100. The Tennessee Supreme Court later upheld the law but overturned the conviction on a technicality.

• In 1942, a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the ACLU affiliates on the West Coast became some of the sharpest critics of the government’s policy on enemy aliens and U.S. citizens descended from enemy ancestry. This included the relocation of Japanese-American citizens, internment of aliens, prejudicial curfews and the like. However, the national board of the ACLU dodged the issue, taking a mildly pro-government position: it accepted the internment in principle and only demanded that relocatees, once “cleared” of any suspicion of wrongdoing, be released from the concentration camps in which they were held.

• In 1954, the ACLU played a role in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which led to the ban on segregation in U.S. public schools.

Crystal Eastman, Founding Member of The ACLU.•

In 1973, the organization was the first major national organization to call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon, giving as reasons the violation by the Nixon administration of civil liberties. That same year, the ACLU was involved in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, in which the Supreme Court held that the constitutional right of privacy extended to women seeking abortions.

• In 1977, the ACLU filed suit against the Village of Skokie, Illinois, seeking an injunction against the enforcement of three town ordinances outlawing Nazi parades and demonstrations (Skokie had a large Jewish population). A federal district court struck down the ordinances in a decision eventually affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU’s action in this case led to the resignation of about 15 percent of the membership from the organization (25 percent in Illinois), especially of Jewish members. A cutback in its activities was avoided by a special mailing which elicited $500,000 in contributions.

• In his February 23, 1978 decision overturning the town ordinances, US District Court Judge Bernard M. Decker described the principle involved in the case as follows: “It is better to allow those who preach racial hatred to expend their venom in rhetoric rather than to be panicked into embarking on the dangerous course of permitting the government to decide what its citizens may say and hear … The ability of American society to tolerate the advocacy of even hateful doctrines … is perhaps the best protection we have against the establishment of any Nazi-type regime in this country.”

• In the 1980s, the ACLU filed suit to challenge the Arkansas 1981 creationism statute, which required the teaching in public schools of the biblical account of creation as a scientific alternative to evolution. The law was declared unconstitutional by a Federal District Court.

While the bulk of the ACLU’s cases involve the First Amendment, Equal Protection and Due Process and cases involving the right to privacy, the organization has taken positions on a wide range of controversial issues. In particular, the ACLU:
• Supports the separation of church and state;
• Opposes the government-sponsored display of religious symbols on public property;
• Opposes official prayers, religious ceremonies, or moments of silence in public schools or schools funded with public money;
• Supports full first amendment rights of citizens, organizations and the press, including school newspapers;
• Supports reproductive rights, including the right to use contraception and to have an abortion;
• Supports full civil rights for homosexuals, including government benefits for homosexual couples equal to those provided for heterosexual ones;
• Supports affirmative action as a means of redressing past discrimination and achieving a racially diverse student body:
• Supports the rights of defendants and suspects against unconstitutional police practices;
• Supports the decriminalization of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana;
• Opposes demonstration permits and other requirements for protests in public places.

(Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) For more information: http://www.aclu.org/

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