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

An Introduction to the GLACLU

After the results of the 2016 election, we are experiencing an influx of people interested in assisting the American Civil Liberties Union in our mission. Hello, and welcome.

WHO WE ARE

The ACLU is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to protect and preserve the civil liberties granted to U.S. citizens by the Constitution and other laws in the United States. The ACLU is active nationally, and in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Many states also have local chapters, such as the Greater Lafayette ACLU.

The Greater Lafayette ACLU was organized in 1955 and has been active over the last 60 years, with the mission to provide educational opportunities to the Greater Lafayette area, and support the Indiana ACLU with awareness, advocacy, advisement, and fundraising initiatives.

We take on politicians and government officials who ignore the Constitution and put liberty at risk. We don’t answer to polls or to the whims of the electorate. We get out the facts, and when our freedoms are on the line, we mobilize grassroots support to protect our civil liberties.

We educate the next generation of civil libertarians, and the public. Our outreach programs help thousands of Hoosiers understand their constitutional rights and what they must do to protect them.

We challenge intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it. We work to root out any and all attempts to deny people the equal protection under the law that the Constitution guarantees.

WHAT WE DO

The GLACLU funds educational initiatives in Greater Lafayette and supports the state ACLU’s research, education, and litigation efforts.

The Indiana ACLU brings cases against government entities on behalf of Hoosiers whose rights have been curbed by anti-Constitutional laws brought within the state. Led by Jane Henegar and litigated by Bloomington attorney and professor Ken Falk, the Indiana chapter has an extremely successful record of litigation. Recent victories include:

The GLACLU board members meet monthly at the Unitarian Universalist church in West Lafayette, at 7PM on the second Wednesday of the month. If you are interested in attending meetings or serving on the board, please contact us to confirm meeting times, as meetings are sometimes moved. At meetings, we discuss current events, educational opportunities for the Lafayette area, upcoming state initiatives, and fundraising efforts. We have over 200 years of collective activist experience on the board, and meetings are often informative, entertaining, and inspirational.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

We anticipate that many laws testing the limits of our civil liberties  — including your right to freedom of speech, your rights to privacy, your right to peacefully assemble in protest, your right to practice your religion freely without state interference, and more — will be coming to the U.S. soon. Anxieties are warranted and the ACLU is ready and able to work on your behalf.

Here’s what you can do to support us:

  1. Report violations of constitutional liberties. This is, after all, our mission. From disability rights to youth rights, to protecting prisoners from discrimination and cruel and unusual punishment, to protecting religious liberty, free speech, privacy, voting rights and much more, the ACLU is here to help you protect and preserve your Constitutional rights. For us to take up a case, the criteria are as follows:
    1. Your civil liberties must have been violated by a government entity;
    2. Your issue concerns a right or freedom protected by the U.S. or Indiana Constitutions;
    3. You are the person or party whose constitutional rights have been violated. We are not able to accept complaints made by third parties.

The Indiana ACLU accepts these complaints directly here and will notify you whether or not your case can be litigated. If it is not, we do have resources available for those who we are unable to assist with litigation.

  1. Join the local ACLU. Annual membership dues for the local chapter are $10, and help fund educational initiatives in Greater Lafayette and support the state ACLU’s research, education, and litigation efforts. Send dues along with email and/or snail mail addresses to:

ACLU of Indiana
Greater Lafayette Chapter
PO Box 2706
West Lafayette, IN 47906

We send an bi-annual newsletter by mail with editorial and informational content, and are building our email list now for calls for more immediate local action. We promise not to share your information or spam your inbox.

    1. Join the state ACLU. You will strengthen our lobbying efforts and grassroots activity by becoming a member of the state ACLU. Paying annual dues of $35 or more entitles you to a membership in BOTH the state and national ACLU.
    2. Attend a board meeting. Board meetings are on the second Wednesday of each month. We meet at the UU Church in West Lafayette, 333 Meridian St, West Lafayette, Indiana. We discuss current events, educational opportunities for the Lafayette area, upcoming state initiatives, and fundraising efforts, and welcome member participation.
    3. Attend our events. We host regular lunchtime talks, an annual fundraising dinner, and weekend events throughout the year. We discuss civil liberties issues happening locally, statewide, and nationally, and provide networking opportunities for activists to make deeper and more meaningful connections in the community.
    4. Take initiative. When the horn is sounded for action, take the time to follow through on writing or calling your representatives. Many representatives hear little from the electorate, and are voting to confirm or deny laws without much citizen input. You can change that by devoting a small amount of time following through on these calls to action. Generally speaking, a phone call is more powerful than an email. Sometimes the ACLU will need warm bodies to support organizational efforts as well. Make time to assist. Oftentimes, the time needed to assist an organization like ours is only a few hours a month or less.
    5. Support your neighbors. Living in a Big Ten town, we have a unique opportunity to seed our efforts with locals, faculty, and students, some of whom will stay and grow a culture of advocacy and organization in Greater Lafayette, and some who will take their experiences with them to new areas of the state, nation and globe. It is important that we listen to, respect, and support one another during anxious times, and nurture a culture of advocacy and organization so our efforts can continue wherever we end up.
    6. Get active, period. The ACLU may not be the right organization for your time and energy, and we appreciate that. There may be other organizations that better fit your resources and expertise. Find them, ask what they need, and then do that. Become an expert in it, and tell everyone you know why this work is so important. The secret sauce of political organizing is awareness, amplification, and learning how to show up and show out — every time, en masse.

We welcome your interest in our organization and are thrilled to have your attention.  Please continue to agitate for the respect and preservation of civil liberties while we plan the 2017 season of the GLACLU. We promise we have much in store for you in the coming days.

Lauren Bruce
Judy Weitzman
Presidents, Greater Lafayette ACLU

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.

Sincerely,

Roberta Schonemann and Judy Weitzman

Co-Presidents, Greater Lafayette Chapter ACLU of Indiana

 

Introduction to the President, 2011

Welcome to the Fall Issue of the Greater Lafayette ACLU newsletter.

Let me start by giving heartfelt thanks to our retiring co-presidents, Roberta Schonemann and Judy Weitzman.

Since I am the new president as of August 2011, let me introduce myself.

Having been born into a minority religious family, we always considered the ACLU as the protector of minori- ties’ civil liberties. While growing up, working, and raising a family on the east coast, my only involvement with the ACLU was annually paying dues.

After retiring from the practice of psychiatry and moving to West Point, IN to be near our fourth child and only daughter (and her husband and four children) we quickly got involved with the Greater Lafayette ACLU-IN. Initially I was on the screening committee, whose function is to screen calls for assistance and to refer the callers to the ACLU-IN office in Indianapolis where the lawyers (2) and the paralegal are situated. They make the final decision as to whether or not the ACLU-IN can handle a given case.

This year, among other things, the ACLU-IN was involved in a number of cases including: 1. Allowing a child to wear a breast cancer awareness bracelet; 2. Challenging a school’s right to punish two high school students for posting “inappropriate” pictures on MySpace during their summer vacation, even though the pictures had nothing to do with the school; 3. Protesting the Department of Corrections’ segregating seriously mentally ill patients in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.

Learn more by accessing the ACLU-IN web site and clicking on “Litigation”.

During this year, our local ACLU-IN chapter sponsored several informational forums. At the annual dinner in April, Dr. Susan Curtis spoke about “The Delphs of Indiana”, a presumed immigration history of the family of State Representative Mike Delph, who sponsored the Indiana immigration law.

We presented the “School to Prison Pipeline” twice; once at the West Lafayette Public Library and once at Jefferson High School. Panelists were the same for both programs. Both were well attended. In September, to celebrate Banned Book Week, Dr. Susan Curtis led a lively, well-attended discussion of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and its inclusion of the “n-” word, which had led to its being banned.

In addition, our chapter had a table presence at both the Outfest and HannaFest and was able to talk about the ACLU-IN and its activities with people from diverse community populations.

We are looking forward to more educational forums this coming year and welcome ideas, suggestions, and feedback from our members!

Walter Dalsimer

President, 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.”

Sincerely,

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.

Sincerely,

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