American Civil Liberties Union

American political lobbying group

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an American non-profit organization with headquarters in New York City, whose stated mission 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.".


  • Listening to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) speak is like having a real life history lesson. Mr. Conyers is the second-longest serving member of Congress, having been in office for nearly 50 years.  After participating in the March on Washington in 1963, he entered Congress in the middle of the fight for civil rights and, as a leading civil rights activist himself, has played a key role in passing, protecting and expanding our nation’s most vital civil rights laws.
    Today is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and gender. It began to provide equal opportunities in areas like employment, voting, public accommodations, and education. Many know it better as the law that integrated lunch counters and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to protect American workers from discriminatory workplace practices.
  • Many people don’t remember how violent and dangerous it was in the South at that time. This bill was the culmination of a long list of incidents going on all over America, particularly in the South... Many people, if not most people in the country, were tired of and embarrassed by the violence that accompanied resistance to ending segregation. ... There were two schools of thought in American politics during that time. There were those who were not willing to throw in the towel and agree that we were coming into a new era. The Southern senators—who were then Democrats—were going to resist to the bitter end bringing about any kind of social equality, and they meant it... This [division] wasn’t over because we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These were very turbulent times... D.C. itself was still in the process of fully desegregating. It was very clear to a lot of people that this was something that had to change... couldn’t go on any longer. But it also meant that there were a large number of people that weren’t for the change.
    It’s become clear that this struggle isn’t over. Much of the violence is gone, which provoked and embarrassed so many people, but we’re still trying to make sure that we aren’t losing rights. Traditional civil rights groups [like] the NAACP [and] the ACLU are making sure we continue this and we don’t let the Act be treated as a bit of unsavory history in that past.
  • It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.
  • The ACLU has long argued that veterans and their families should be free to choose religious symbols on military headstones — whether Crosses, Stars of David, Pentacles, or other symbols — and that the government should not be permitted to restrict such religious expression in federal cemeteries.
  • Members of the military have a right to pray or not pray as they personally see fit, and that right is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is one of the fundamental rights they put their lives on the line to defend in service to their country. But the government should not be in the business of compelling religious observance, particularly in military academies, where students can feel coerced by senior students and officials and risk the loss of leadership opportunities for following their conscience.
  • The ACLU is devoted to some very controversial principles — like the principle that everyone who is arrested should enjoy the same constitutional rights, regardless of their alleged crime or their character. We don't take that position to irritate people; we take that position because we believe in it. We believe in it, in part, in a spirit of enlightened self-interest, because the rights of each one of us are co-extensive with the rights of everyone who is arrested and prosecuted in the criminal courts. If we all don't enjoy the same rights, then no one enjoys any rights at all; some of us merely enjoy privilege.
  • Even the American Civil Liberties Union, set up specifically to defend the liberties of Communists and all other political groups, began to wilt in the cold war atmosphere. It had already started in this direction back in 1940 when it expelled one of its charter members, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, because she was a member of the Communist party. In the fifties, the ACLU was hesitant to defend Corliss Lamont, its own board member, and Owen Lattimore, when both were under attack. It was reluctant to defend publicly the Communist leaders during the first Smith Act trial, and kept completely out of the Rosenberg case, saying no civil liberties issues were involved.

See also