American Civil Liberties Union Research Paper

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American Civil Liberties Union

(Friend or Foe)

America was founded on the astute principles of democracy and the potential benefits of freedom it derives. America, unlike many of its foreign counterparts has long recognized the benefits of individual rights, freedoms and privileges and has fought to the death to protect them. Currently, America aims to spread these principles of democracy around the globe in an effort to create a better quality of life for all mankind. Even with these lofty and ambitious goals, America, on occasion fails to uphold these principles within its own borders. Too often, America has overlooked the problems prevalent within its own country while criticizing other nations about their own circumstances. Many of these overlooked issues including slavery, discrimination, women's rights and others have left an unfavorable image in American history. In such instances, the American Civil Liberties Union has become the beacon of hope for the American public.

The ACLU was founded in 1920 in direct response to the infringement of individual rights of American citizens. The goal at that moment was the same as it is today "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States (1)." During this period, World War 1 was just concluding, and as such, many anti-communist sentiments were predominant (2). As such, the first amendment right to freedom of speech was severely tarnished. Many individuals didn't tolerate any kind of lawful debate regarding communism or the merit of their actions. During this period, the communist party of America was beginning to show favor as it dramatically increased its membership from 5000 to over 30,000 in a few short years. This was so ubiquitous and widespread that Attorney general Mitchell Palmar began deporting individuals deemed as radicals. Together with John Edgar Hoover, Mitchel launched a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations. Believing that the revolution that had taken place in Russia may soon spread in America, Hoover and Mitchell embarked on a tour of repression (3). In a sense, America ended a repression in one country during the first world war, Russia, only to begin another within its own borders. Through this fear of a communist revival many of the rights of individual citizens were comprised. Through these actions the ACLU was subsequently formed. Since its humble beginning in 1920, the ACLU has grown exponentially to over 500,000 members and is considered one of the most well regarded organizations within America. All 500,000 plus members are dedicated to the protection of individual rights with the United States and abroad. In addition, the organization provides lawyers and legal expertise in cases in which in deems individual rights have been encroached upon. Annually, the organization conducts 6000 cases in nearly all 50 states. The organization will fight lawfully any abuse of these rights from whatever source it is generated from. This will include governments, individual factions, unions, and so forth. In addition, the ACLU is committed to upholding these principles even in the midst of controversy and disdain. One particular topic is that of abortion which has been a historically contentious issue for all parties involved. The ACLU has cleaning enumerated its position as a pro-choice organization even as it has been an unpopular choice. This dedication to principle in the midst of unpopular public perception is what makes this organization not only one to be admired, but also one that should not be underestimated.

Brief History of ACLU intervention

The ACLU has a very distinct and storied history of intervention on possible infringements of rights. Many occasions, as we shall see, were very unpopular in regards to public perception. However, this intervention was necessary to uphold the integrity of the rights of American citizens. On many instances, the ACLU has been a major advocate for underrepresented communities and first amendment cases (4).

One of the ACLU's first battles against government was fought in the midst of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1942. At the time, as with many instances in history, Americans were afraid and acted irrationally due to this fear. In this particular instance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that over 110,000 Japanese-Americans be sent to "War relocation camps." In addition, the president ordered internment of aliens and prejudicial curfews. These actions in and of themselves were not questionable as they were a matter of national security, and could have huge implications for the future of America. However, the ACLU argued that those cleared of any suspicion or wrongdoing be released from the concentration camps (5). This action was of particular importance because many Japanese were wrongly accused or feared simply due to their nationality. In fact, this in my opinion seems eerily similar to how Americans treated individuals of Middle Eastern decent shortly after September 11th. In response to fear, it is our inclination as Americans to group an entire race together as culprits due primarily to the ill advised acts of a certain few. I believe it is the protectionist mentality of our human nature that is responsible for this. As individuals and communities, we tend to lump similar looking individual together in hopes that, by doing so, we are protecting ourselves. We did this in 1942 with Pearl Harbor, and we continue to do it now with individuals of Middle Eastern decent. Because of this human folly, the ACLU plays an important role as a balancing mechanism in American society. If not for the ACLU in these instances in 1942, the possibilities of more wrongly accused Japanese-Americans being erroneously treated would have increased exponentially.

Our second example is of particular importance to the African-American community. This came in 1954 as the ACLU collaborated with the NAACP to help change the landscape of public school education as we now see it. Prior to 1954, most African-Americans were segregated from their white counterparts. In many instances, African-Americans were forced to eat in separate restaurants, use separate bathrooms, and in this particular circumstance attend separate schools. The premise behind this segregation was the concept of "Separate but equal." However, the infrastructure used by the African-American community was by no means equal to their white counterparts. In fact, in many cases, these facilities were far worse than those used by other races. Fed up with the inequality present within public schools the NAACP along with the ACLU embarked on a journey of justice as they lawfully fought this inequality in court. What is now considered one of the most influential rulings in regard to racial justice, "Brown vs. The board of education" was a turning point in the civil rights movement. Through their combined efforts the Supreme Court declared the racial segregation in schools was unlawful and violated the fourteenth amendment (6). The ACLU was there the entire time as it fought to preserve these rights for all men. Again, this of particular importance because of the lasting impact this decision had for the African-American community. Not only was it a catalyst that helped propel the civil rights movement, but it also was a prospect of hope for the African-American community. Through its actions, the ACLU first helped ligitmize the importance and urgency in s which the civil rights movement had. Further, through the aid the ACLU provided, the African-American community was in better position to properly combat any ill will or sentiment regarding its actions. Finally, the ACLU helped establish a long-term relationship with the African-American community as it now, continues to fight the battle of social inequality. In essence, the NAACP, the African-American community, and the ACLU all have a common goal of justice and preservation of rights. Through this common link, all three banded together, as they continue to do now, for the greater good of society and communities in which they serve.

Has this organization had a historical long-term effect on community relations?

The organization does indeed have a long-term effect on the community. Within the brief history section of this document, we outlined numerous examples which portrayed the ACLU's strategy towards the preservation of American liberties. The ACLU has a critical function within the complex world on modern day society. The ACLU is, in essence, a watchdog organization with the power and clout to alter public opinion. It is this very ability that makes the ACLU so important to the long-term preservation of American rights of individuals and the community. First, an organization with the sheer size of the ACLU can not be ignored by either political or private naysayers. Even if unpopular, their voice and opinion will be heard publically. With this ability, the ACLU can first make the general community aware of any blatant infringement on their individual rights. Second, as an organization, the ACLU has the means to assemble the general public to combat these infringements on both a state and national level. This second reason is of particular importance as it allows the community to be actively involved in the preservation of their own…[continue]

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