American Civil Liberties Union

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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).

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