In November 1919 and January 1920, in what notoriously became known as the "Palmer Raids", Attorney General Mitchell Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals. Thousands of people were arrested without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. Those arrested were brutally treated and held in horrible conditions.
In the face of these egregious civil liberties abuses, a small group of people decided to take a stand, and thus was born the American Civil Liberties Union.
1920 - Palmer Raids
In its first year, the ACLU championed the targets of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer including politically radical immigrants. We also supported the right of trade unionists to hold meetings and organize, and we secured the release of hundreds of activists imprisoned for their antiwar activities.
1925 - The Scopes Case
When biology teacher John T. Scopes was charged with violating a Tennessee ban on the teaching of evolution, the ACLU was there and secured celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense. Although Scopes was found guilty (the verdict was later overturned because of a sentencing error), the trial made national headlines and helped persuade the public on the importance of academic freedom.
1942 - Fighting the Internment of Japanese Americans
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered all people of Japanese descent, most of whom were American citizens, be sent to war relocation camps. Eventually more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were sent to these internment camps. The ACLU, led by its California affiliates, stood alone in speaking out about this atrocity.
1954 - Brown v. Board of Education
In 1954, the ACLU joined forces with the NAACP to challenge racial segregation in public schools. The resulting Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that ended the era of separate but equal was a major victory for racial justice.
1969 - Protecting Free Speech
In Tinker v. Des Moines, the ACLU won a major Supreme Court victory on behalf of public school students suspended for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, a major First Amendment victory.
1973 - Reproductive Rights
After decades of struggle, the Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman's right to decide whether she will terminate or continue a pregnancy. But the fight still continues, as the ACLU fends off new attacks to erode women's right to reproductive choice.
1978 - Taking a Stand for Free Speech in Skokie
The ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case cost the ACLU dearly as members left in droves, but to many it was our finest hour, and it has come to represent our unwavering commitment to principle.
1981 - Creationism in Arkansas
Fifty-six years after the Scopes trial, the ACLU challenged an Arkansas statute requiring that the biblical story of creation be taught as a "scientific alternative" to the theory of evolution. A federal court found the statute, which fundamentalists saw as a model for other states, unconstitutional. That fight continues today as we take on the "intelligent design" movement with cases like our 2005 victory in Dover, Pennsylvania.
1997 - Internet Free Speech
In ACLU v. Reno, the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which censored the Internet by broadly banning "indecent" speech. Since then, Congress has passed numerous versions of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), a federal law that would criminalize constitutionally protected speech on the Internet. Each time the law has been challenged by the ACLU and declared unconstitutional.
2001 to Present - Keeping America Safe and Free
Since 9/11 terrorist attacks, the ACLU has been working vigorously to oppose policies that sacrifice our fundamental freedoms in the name of national security. From working to fix the Patriot Act to challenging NSA warrantless spying, our advocates are working to restore fundamental freedoms lost as a result of the Bush administration policies that expanded the government's power to invade privacy, imprison people without due process, and punish dissent.
2003 - Equal Treatment for Lesbians and Gay Men
In Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the ACLU's argument that the court had been wrong when it ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that the right to privacy did not cover lesbian and gay relationships. It struck down a Texas law that made same-sex intimacy a crime, expanding the privacy rights of all Americans and promoting the right of lesbians and gay men to equality.
2003 to 2009 - Exposing Torture
After a five-year legal battle, the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit compelled the release of critical documents detailing the extent of the Bush torture program, including long-secret legal memos justifying waterboarding and other abuses and an Inspector General's report highlighting CIA abuses. The ACLU is leading the demand for full accountability for those who authorized or condoned torture.
2005 - Keeping Religion Out of the Science Classroom
In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the ACLU represented a group of parents who challenged a public school district requirement for teachers to present so-called "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes. In a decision that garnered nationwide attention, a district judge ruled that "intelligent design" is not science and teaching it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
2009 - Protecting the Right to Privacy
In Safford Unified School District v. Redding, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl when they strip searched her based on a classmate's uncorroborated accusation.
WHO WE ARE
The ACLU has evolved from a small group of idealists into the nation's premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. With more than 1.5 million members, nearly 300 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today continues 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, citizens' rights to privacy and much more. The ACLU stands up for these rights even when the cause is unpopular, and sometimes when nobody else will. While not always in agreement with us on every issue, Americans have come to count on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle. The ACLU has become so ingrained in American society that it is hard to imagine an America without it.
That commitment to principle in difficult situations continues today. Since the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11, the ACLU has been working vigorously to oppose policies that sacrifice our fundamental freedoms in the name of national security. From opposing the Patriot Act to challenging warrantless spying to challenging the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge or trial, the ACLU is committed to restoring fundamental freedoms lost as a result of policies that expand the government's power to invade privacy, imprison people without due process and punish dissent.
The ACLU also remains a champion of segments of the population who have traditionally been denied their rights, with much of our work today focused on equality for people of color, women, gay and transgender people, prisoners, immigrants, and people with disabilities.
But the work of defending freedom never ends, and in our vibrant and passionate society, difficult struggles over individual rights and liberties aren't likely to disappear anytime soon. The ACLU is committed to fight for freedom and the protection of constitutional rights for generations to come.
The ACLU is non-profit and non-partisan. We do not receive any government funding.
This information taken from the ACLU National Website.