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American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Founded (1920) by such prominent figures as Jane Addams, Helen Keller, Judah Magnus, and Norman Thomas, the ACLU grew out of earlier groups that had defended the rights of conscientious objectors during World War I. Its program is directed toward three major areas of civil liberties: inquiry and expression, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion; equality before the law for everyone, regardless of race, nationality, sex, political opinion, or religious belief; and due process of law for all. Its most significant and successful activities have involved court tests of important civil liberties issues. Since its founding, the ACLU has participated directly or indirectly in almost every major civil liberties case contested in American courts. Among these are the so-called Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee (1925), the Sacco-Vanzetti case (1920s), the federal court test (1933) that ended the censorship of James Joyce's Ulysses, and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) school desegregation case. In the late 1970s the ACLU defended the right of a neo-Nazi group to march in Skokie, Ill. The ACLU has about 275,000 members in its state organizations. The national office, located in New York City, also supports lobbying and educational activity on behalf of civil liberties issues.

See J. L. Gibson and R. D. Bingham, Civil Liberties and Nazis (1985).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Reno V. ACLU: The First Amendment, Electronic Media, and the Internet Indecency Issue
Craig, J. Robert.
Communications and the Law, Vol. 20, No. 2, June 1998
Free Expression in America: A Documentary History
Sheila Suess Kennedy.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Document 19 "Guardian of Liberty: American Civil Liberties Union (c. 1920)"
Capital Punishment in the United States: A Documentary History
Bryan Vila; Cynthia Morris.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Document 48 "The ACLU Takes a Stand against the Death Penalty"
Interest Groups and Judicial Federalism: Organizational Litigation in State Judiciaries
Donald J. Farole Jr.
Praeger, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Obscenity: The ACLU in State Judiciaries" and Chap. 7 "Obscenity: The Organizational Threshold and Group Litigation"
Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954
Mary Sperling McAuliffe.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1978
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Civil Liberties and Security"
Roger Nash Baldwin, the National Civil Liberties Bureau, and Military Intelligence during World War I
Cottrell, Robert C.
The Historian, Vol. 60, No. 1, Fall 1997
Free Expression in the Age of the Internet: Social and Legal Boundaries
Jeremy Harris Lipschultz.
Westview Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Reno v. ACLU: A Legal Test in the Age of the Internet"
Has the ACLU Lost Its Mind?
Etzioni, Amitai.
The Washington Monthly, Vol. 26, No. 10, October 1994
James Lawrence Fly, the FBI, and Wiretapping
Edwardson, Mickie.
The Historian, Vol. 61, No. 2, Winter 1999
Public Housing Sweep Stakes: My Battle with the ACLU
Lane, Vincent.
Policy Review, No. 69, Summer 1994
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