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Happy 100th Birthday American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

September 11th, 2020 · No Comments · Books, City Library, Government Documents, Main Branch, West Branch

The ACLU has been at the forefront civil rights issues since its founding in 1920.  The group was started by a small group of idealists in New York City in response to growing anti-communism hysteria after world war I. The National Civil Liberties Bureau , the pre-cursor to the ACLU, was co-founded in 1917 by Crystal Eastman and Roger Nash Baldwin.  Today, the ACLU has affiliates in all 50 states and has over 1,200,000 members.

For instance, on May 25, George Floyd, a black man, died by asphyxiation while being detained by police.  The incident was caught on camera and sparked worldwide protests.   In June, the ACLU and 400 coalition groups (including the American Library Association) sent a letter to congressional leaders condemning police violence.  Their 15 page letter requested that legislation be passed immediately to address ongoing police killings and violence against black people. 

This is what the ACLU does.  It fights for the civil liberties of people like you and me. 

Per the ACLU website, their goal is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States”.  They are non-partisan and have been criticized by the left and the right.  They’ve sued democratic administrations and are suing the current administration (there are currently 237 filed lawsuits).

The ACLU also provides legal representation and has been involved in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (school desegregation), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights), the Scopes Trial (theory of evolution), and Loving v. Virginia (interracial marriage). Have you seen the movie about Loving v. Virginia that came out in 2016?

But what about New Hampshire?  One day, closer home, a Jehovah’s Witness, GeorgeMaynard, covered up the slogan “Live Free or Die” on his license plate.  He didn’t agree with the slogan, based on his religious beliefs.  New Hampshire law at the time said that doing so was illegal.  He was stopped twice by Lebanon police.  The ACLU contacted George because they felt he had a good federal case.  Sure enough, In Wooley v. Maynard, it was decided that it is, in fact, ok to cover up the slogan on your license plate.  The existing law was invalidated by the Court as a denial of the right “not to speak” under the first amendment. 

Besides providing legal representation in civil rights cases, the ACLU also seeks to educate citizens and has a helpful section on their website on knowing your rights.  For instance, what do you do if you’re stopped by the police? What are your rights in prison?  What are your rights if you have a disability?  What are your rights as an immigrant?  Learn more about the ACLU and the many ways it protects the common citizen. Please check out the display of print, video and audio materials in the library Rotunda and notice the list of the many areas for which the ACLU has been on the front lines.  Happy 100th birthday American Civil Liberties Union and many more.

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