The American Civil Liberties Union ACLU


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Essay, Research Paper

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Where do you go if someone is threatening your personal rights? Do you

go to the police, or maybe to the government? What if the police and government

are the parties threatening your rights? All you have to do is just call the

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Sounds like a commercial doesn’t it. The

ACLU blankets the United States with its legal protection. It is involved in so

many aspects of the fight for civil liberties that it is difficult to cover it

all. To fully understand what the ACLU has done for the United States would take

much longer than I have. Therefore, I have picked a couple of incidents that, to

me, exemplify what the ACLU is, and how they have affected our society.

The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, is an organization that began

the struggle to protect the civil liberties of the American people. The ACLU is

defined as being a US non-partisan organization offering legal aid and other

assistance in cases of violation of civil liberties.(Websters) Civil liberties

contain a substantial body of law including: freedom of speech and press,

separation of church and state, free exercise of religion, due process of law,

equal protection, and privacy.(Walker 3) The Encyclopedia of the Constitution

defines civil liberties as “those rights that an individual citizens may assert

against the government.” In a formal sense, the ACLU is a private voluntary

organization dedicated to defending the Bill of Rights. Officially established

in 1920, the

ACLU now claims over 270,000 members. With offices in most of the states and the

District of Columbia the ACLU justifiably calls itself ” the nation’s largest

law firm.”(Walker 4)

The ACLU, despite its noble goal, has a terrible public image. The

reason for such hatred or support is the fact that civil liberty cases generally

involve moral and personal issues. These issues are those that incite feelings

from all corners of society. The rights the ACLU is generally protecting are

those segments of society that least agree with mainstream society. The ACLU has

promised to protect the rights of everyone. Those rights include the free speech

rights of such detested groups as the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and Communist. The

Skokie Case is an example of the classic freedom of speech case the ACLU would

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 espousing one of

the most universally despised ideology in the country. While the ACLU was

just doing its job it almost had to shut down when many withdrew their

memberships and support.

The ACLU became the taunt of the 1988 Presidential campaign. The race

between George Bush and Michael Dukakis brought the ACLU to the forefront of

media attention. The ACLU became the stumbling block of the Dukakis’

presidential bid. The Bush campaign asked for ammunition to help chip away at

Dukakis early lead. The staff came back with a quote, for a speech, calling

Dukakis a “card carrying member of the ACLU who opposed the death

penalty.”(Dionne 311) He was pro-gun control, pro-abortion, and had as the Bush

campaign put it, “…vetoed the pledge of allegiance.” Dukakis, in short, was a

classic, unrepentant “sixties liberal.”(Dionne 311) This accusation gave

Dukakis a liberal reputation in a campaign that was middle of the road leaning

toward conservatism. In this case the truth hurt. “In the Bush formulation,

belonging to the ACLU meant never balancing an individual claim against a social

claim.”(Dionne 314) Unfortunatly the opposites sounds suspiciously like anarchy.

The flip side to this is the negative publicity unintentionally helped to

increase the membership and strength of the ACLU. ” In the end it added nearly

70,000 new members perhaps half as a direct result of the campaign…exceeding

even the peak [membership] of the Watergate years.”(Walker 369)

The ACLU is the watchdog of civil liberties. They protect us by

defending those we might hate. They have shaped politics, the legal system, and

media. I may not like the liberal policies of the ACLU and its members, but I

have to respect the principles and ideals it was founded on and still expound



“American Civil Liberties Union.” Webster’s New Lexicon Dictionary. 1989

Walker, 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. 263-270

Dionne, E.J. Why Americans Hate Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991

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