Who, exactly, are the ACLU?

We are always surprised when people ask us, “What, exactly, is the ACLU?” For us, because we are so involved, the answer seems pretty obvious, but simply because of the question, we are led to examine our response.

The ACLU is nearly 100 years old – that is undeniable. It was founded in 1920 by an amazing group of individuals, including Felix Frankfurter, future US Supreme Court Justice.

The mission of the ACLU is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution of the United States.” That it accomplishes by litigation in State and Federal courts on behalf of people whose civil liberties have been denied.

That mission has led the ACLU to successfully secure the rights of interracial couples to marry, the rights of LGBT couples to marry and adopt children, the rights of prisoners to be free from torture, and prevent government preferences for religion over non-religion or favoring certain faiths over others, the protection of individuals to speak out against government agencies and lots, lots, more. The ACLU has done way more than we could possibly list here.

Have you or someone you know been directly affected by the actions of the ACLU? Probably, yes.

Today, the ACLU is the largest and most active organization working to protect us from the actions and proposed actions of the government that are in direct violation of the Constitution.

That is the short version of what the ACLU is.

But, who is the ACLU?

We are the ACLU. Each of us who supports the ACLU with our actions and contributions. Every one of us. Everyone who realizes that separately we can accomplish very little, but together we have strength and power. We are not the litigators, but we support the litigators. We are not the legal scholars or Constitutional experts, but we make their work possible.

We invite each of you to join the ACLU if you are not already among its members.

And we invite you to join us at this year’s Annual Dinner on April 19 to learn more about the “5 Things You Can Do” to work with the ACLU at this critical time in our history.

Judy Weitzman
Lauren Bruce
Co-Presidents, GLACLU

Defending the Indefensible

Originally published Spring 2011.

As ACLU members, we share a common commitment to defend civil liberties, in the service of which sometimes comes the need to defend the indefensible.

In an 8 – 1 decision on March 2, 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the free speech rights of members of the Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist anti-gay group, over a family burdened by the loss in Iraq of their Marine son.

“The Court’s decision properly and respectfully acknowledges”, wrote ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro, “that the response to grief cannot include the abandonment of core First Amendment principles designed to protect the most unpopular speech on matters of public concern.”

For some this case conjured up memories of the 1978 ACLU’s defense of the KKK’s right to march in Skokie, Illinois, residence of many holocaust survivors. Although an action that led to a decline in ACLU membership, it is now regarded by many as the ACLU’s finest hour by having demonstrated that constitutional rights must apply to all if they are to apply to one.

In 2004, the ACLU of Florida claimed that state law enforcement officers violated Rush Limbaugh’s privacy rights by seizing his medical records as part of an investigation involving alleged “doctor shopping”.

Why, ask some, should the ACLU come to the defense of Rush Limbaugh? To which Howard Simon, then Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, responded “We have always said that the ACLU’s real client is the Bill of Rights, and we will continue to safeguard the values of equality, fairness, and privacy for everyone, regardless of race, economic status, or political point of view.”

In declaring “the freer the speech, the stronger the democracy”, Tom Roden, guardian.co.uk, criticizes Europe for the restrictions it imposes on free speech, because such laws tend to drive extremists underground and into radical actions. Providing a democratic outlet, even for hateful speech, instills the belief that discourse alone may persuade others to the cause. Closing this opportunity indirectly fosters acts of intimidation and violence.

“Violent extremism is the resort of those that believe violence, not speech, is their best mechanism for social change.”

So the next time you are asked why the ACLU defends the indefensible, say it is to strengthen and safeguard democracy and extend an invitation to join the ACLU in this vital endeavor.


Roberta Schonemann and Judy Weitzman

Co-Presidents, Greater Lafayette Chapter ACLU of Indiana


The ACLU defends the rights of all the people.

One of our favorite quotes from Molly Ivins:

“It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

The ACLU has lead that struggle for 90 years. In fact, the ACLU was created for just that purpose. The ACLU is not here to defend the rights of only the people we like, but all the people.

Not just the people who look like us. All the people.

Not just the ones who share our views. All the people.

Not just the ones whose behavior is popular. All the people.

Today it should be no surprise that the ACLU supports the legal rights of Rev. Fred Phelps to picket the funerals of American Soldiers. Phelps and his followers condemn “fags” and celebrate the deaths of U.S. soldiers as signs that God hates America because of our approval of the “LGBT lifestyle.”

There is no doubt that the Reverend Phelps’s views are hateful and reflect a set of beliefs that are totally contradictory to the ACLU’s long history in support of Gay Rights. As early as 1936, the ACLU defended the play, The Children’s Hour, that was banned in Boston because of its lesbian content. And just this year, the ACLU successfully defended Constance McMillen’s right to take her girlfriend to the Senior Prom in Fulton, Mississippi.

The ACLU supports the rights and freedoms of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. The Rev. Phelps does not. Nonetheless, the Reverend Phelps is within his rights. Whether we like the speech or not, free speech is defended by the Constitution.

When people challenge you about the logic of the ACLU supporting Fred Phelps, remind them what Molly said so well …”extend the liberties of the Constitution to everyone in America.”


Roberta Schonemann and Judy Weitzman

Co-Presidents, Greater Lafayette Chapter ACLU of Indiana


How does the ACLU use your donation?

Originally published Spring 2010

When you support the ACLU with contributions and letter-writing campaigns, you probably feel good about what you do. Have you ever wondered who else is grateful for your support? Let us introduce you to a few.

There’s 13 year old Savana Redding. She was strip searched at her middle school in Stafford, Arizona, based on a classmate’s false accusation that she possessed ibuprofen pills. Savana and her mom were turned away by lower courts when they challenged this violation of privacy. The ACLU helped them take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Savana, “With supportive ACLU lawyers by my side, we won a critical Supreme Court ruling that establishes new protections against strip-searches in public schools — a ruling that will protect generations of students from having to go through the same kind of humiliating invasion of privacy that I did.”

Nick George, a Pomona College foreign language student was abusively interrogated, handcuffed and detained at the Philadelphia International Airport because of a set of English-Arabic flashcards he had with him. A TSA supervisor questioned Nick, asking him how he felt about 9/11, whether he knew who did 9/11, and whether he knew what language Osama bin Laden spoke. Nick was handcuffed, led through a terminal to the airport police station where he was left in a locked cell for two hours in the handcuffs, and for two more hours with the handcuffs removed. He was then interrogated for half an hour, and he was not informed of his rights. By the time he was released, Nick had long since missed his flight and was told by airline officials that he would have to wait until the next day to travel. The ACLU and the ACLU of Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit on Nick’s behalf.

Cynthia Stewart, a 17-year-old junior at Tharptown High School in northern Alabama, a member of her school’s prom planning committee, had personally raised over $200 for the prom and created the theme her classmates had chosen for the dance. She is also an out lesbian.

When Cynthia approached her principal to ask if she could bring her girlfriend with her to the prom, she was denied permission. He also made Cynthia remove a sticker she was wearing that said, “I am a lesbian,” and told her, “You don’t have that much freedom of speech at school.”

Cynthia’s aunt and guardian, Kathy Baker, appealed the principal’s decision to the school board, which let stand the decision to bar Cynthia from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. Cynthia then sought help from the ACLU of Alabama. Subsequently, the Franklin County School System officials reversed their decision: Cynthia will be allowed to attend the prom with her girlfriend.

Who else appreciates your support? We do.


Roberta Schonemann and Judy Weitzman
Co-Presidents, Greater Lafayette Chapter ACLU of Indiana