Aclu Essay, Research Paper

ACLU Where do you go if someone is threatening your personal rights? Do yougo to the police, or maybe to the government? What if the police andgovernment are the parties threatening your rights? All you have to do is justcall the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Sounds like a commercialdoesn’t it. The ACLU blankets the United States with its legal protection. It isinvolved in so many aspects of the fight for civil liberties that it is difficult tocover it all. To fully understand what the ACLU has done for the United Stateswould take much longer than I have. Therefore, I have picked a couple ofincidents that, to me, exemplify what the ACLU is, and how they have affectedour society. The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, is an organization that beganthe struggle to protect the civil liberties of the American people. The ACLU isdefined as being a US non-partisan organization offering legal aid and otherassistance in cases of violation of civil liberties.(Websters) Civil liberties containa substantial body of law including: freedom of speech and press, separation ofchurch and state, free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection,and privacy.(Walker 3) The Encyclopedia of the Constitution defines civilliberties as “those rights that an individual citizens may assert against thegovernment.” In a formal sense, the ACLU is a private voluntary organizationdedicated to defending the Bill of Rights. Officially established in 1920, theACLU now claims over 270,000 members. With offices in most of the states andthe District of Columbia the ACLU justifiably calls itself ” the nation’s largest lawfirm.”(Walker 4)The ACLU, despite its noble goal, has a terrible public image. The reasonfor such hatred or support is the fact that civil liberty cases generally involvemoral and personal issues. These issues are those that incite feelings from allcorners of society. The rights the ACLU is generally protecting are thosesegments of society that least agree with mainstream society. The ACLU haspromised to protect the rights of everyone. Those rights include the free speechrights of such detested groups as the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and Communist. TheSkokie Case is an example of the classic freedom of speech case the ACLUwould undertake. This case which hit the media April 28, 1977, concerned the

right of American Nazi Frank Collin to demonstrate in Skokie, IL. (Walker 323)This case like many before and after defended the rights of a person espousingone of the most universally despised ideology in the country. While the ACLUwas just doing its job it almost had to shut down when many withdrew theirmemberships and support. The ACLU became the taunt of the 1988 Presidential campaign. The racebetween George Bush and Michael Dukakis brought the ACLU to the forefrontof media attention. The ACLU became the stumbling block of the Dukakis’presidential bid. The Bush campaign asked for ammunition to help chip away atDukakis early lead. The staff came back with a quote, for a speech, callingDukakis a “card carrying member of the ACLU who opposed the deathpenalty.”(Dionne 311) He was pro-gun control, pro-abortion, and had as theBush campaign put it, “…vetoed the pledge of allegiance.” Dukakis, in short,was a classic, unrepentant “sixties liberal.”(Dionne 311) This accusation gaveDukakis a liberal reputation in a campaign that was middle of the road leaningtoward conservatism. In this case the truth hurt. “In the Bush formulation,belonging to the ACLU meant never balancing an individual claim against asocial claim.”(Dionne 314) Unfortunatly the opposites sounds suspiciously likeanarchy. The flip side to this is the negative publicity unintentionally helped toincrease the membership and strength of the ACLU. ” In the end it added nearly70,000 new members perhaps half as a direct result of the campaign…exceedingeven the peak [membership] of the Watergate years.”(Walker 369)The ACLU is the watchdog of civil liberties. They protect us by defendingthose we might hate. They have shaped politics, the legal system, and media. Imay not like the liberal policies of the ACLU and its members, but I have torespect the principles and ideals it was founded on and still expound today. Bibliography”American Civil Liberties Union.” Webster’s New Lexicon Dictionary. 1989Walker, Samuel. In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. Norman Dorsem, “Civil Liberties.” in Leonard Levy, ed., Encylopedia of the Constitution (New York:Macmillan, 1986), pp. 263-270Dionne, E.J. Why Americans Hate Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991


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