The American Civil Liberties Union is an incredibly important organization in the U.S. that protects the rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.
It was founded in the years after World War I to protect the civil liberties of those who were being rounded up and persecuted in the name of the fear of Communism. At the time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer authorized the arrest of many Americans without warrants or due cause. They were kept in poor conditions and treated worse.
One of the ACLU’s first big fights took place in Tennessee when the state banned the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools. In 1925, when a biology teacher named John T. Scopes was charged with violating a ban on teaching evolution, the organization hired attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense.
The ACLU also fought against the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; joined the NAACP in prosecuting the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court declared that segregated schools were in violation of the 14th Amendment. It also fought for women’s right to control their bodies in the Roe v. Wade, and continues to work against the erosion of women’s rights to safe, legal birth control and abortion services.
In one of its more unpopular actions, the ACLU defended the right of American Nazis to hold a march in Skokie, Illinois. That case cost the organization dearly in terms of membership and revenue, but it demonstrated that the ACLU really does defend free speech for everyone.
The ACLU fought for academic freedom and has since evolved to fight for the rights that are defined in the United States Constitution. It currently has half a million members and a couple hundred on-staff attorneys. Among other things, they work to “fight government abuse and to vigorously defend individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, and citizens’ rights to privacy.”
The ACLU describes itself as “ingrained in American society that it is hard to imagine an America without it.” It will become even more important in the coming years to protect the rights of each American and to support the organizations that are working tirelessly to do so.