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Essay about Roger Baldwin: The American Civil Liberties Union

The American Civil Liberties Union is an American non-profit institution that works to defend American rights and liberties provided by laws and the Constitution. They also use court cases and through documentation of verdicts and are a very important protector of liberties and rights of the American people. From its official start in 1920 from the former National Civil Liberties Bureau the ACLU has been focused on the secular rights not of one theme but of all groups, from Civil Rights, free speech for anyone, and the separation of church and state.

However the American Civil Liberties Union was not always popular. From its start its founders including Roger Baldwin, an agnostic and socialist, were extremists and most showed radical Communist leanings, looking to keep Communism alive through the protection of the Constitution. Throughout the early years the ACLU had many friends and ideas that raised great suspicion about their credibility, but as the organization grew and learned how to work most effectively and widespread the ACLU became one of the greatest assets for the defense of the American people.

The ACLU has changed drastically throughout its time, from its communist and radical beginning to the powerhouse of the legal system today. The ACLU began by communist ideals, worked into the the freedoms of all instead of just liberties, into the system for all public defense, and how they run today Since Roger Baldwin founded the ACLU it has alway been a source of controversy. “The ACLU was founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, an agnostic and socialist who demonstrated Communist leanings” (Sears). Roger Baldwin was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act in October 1918 and was sent to prison” (Walker) making it known that he disagreed with many government policies, and when he was released he joined the American Civil Liberties Bureau, (CLB), and led the transition to the American Civil Liberties Union. Baldwin’s influence on the organization enhanced its connection with unpopular ideas. As it began its work in the court system the ACLU provided support to those who need it but could not be because of money or unpopularity.

The ACLU has always been dedicated to helping the people, no matter the persons views or the views of the ACLU, “The arrest of antiwar dissenters under the Espionage and Sedition acts inspired the formation in 1917 of the Civil Liberties Bureau, which in 1920 became the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). For the rest of the century, the ACLU would take part in most of the landmark cases that helped bring about a “rights revolution. ” Its efforts helped give meaning to traditional civil liberties like freedom of speech and invented new ones, like the right to privacy” (Foner), even when against the laws of the American government. Baldwin thought of the ACLU as a group of elitists, of highly educated people, a few thousand at most throughout the country, who would be the vanguard of a movement to protect individual rights in this society” (Sears). Because of the views of the early ACLU the would fight in any case to protect the people from the government with Constitutional support. “Baldwin counted among his friends Margaret Sanger, a eugenist who founded Planned Parenthood, establishing the early link between the ACLU and abortionists…

Baldwin was also friends with Emma Goldman, who he considered a mentor, a promoter and an anarchist. Her online exhibit claims that her writings inspired the work of the ACLU” (Sears). All of these ideas behind Baldwin, his friends, and the ACLU led to the very unpopular view of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU began its connection to its members and its first victories shortly after its creation. Through its early years, most of the ACLU’s work involved public education through protests and distributing materials to inform people about violations of civil liberties.

A Letter to Members of the ACLU National Committee, February 6, 1920, is probably the first official communication to ACLU members, and it describes the first work of the ACLU. Item #5 divides those activities into three main areas: legal defense; publicity; seeking amnesty for political prisoners. Item #3 describes the attempts to develop relations with people in other cities to make the ACLU an “effective nation-wide organization. ” (Walker) From its founding, the ACLU also had its attention on racial justice. In the early 1920s the principal issue involved Ku Klux Klan and mob violence against African Americans.

Another instance of the ACLU’s connections, The April 1921 letter from Roger Baldwin urges ACLU supporters to write a “short pointed” letter to the president (Warren G. Harding had taken office in March) asking for the release of persons imprisoned during the war for the expression of opinion. In December, President Harding did release a number of these prisoners. The June 1921 statements asks people to oppose the Sterling Bill which would make it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government by force or violence. The Sterling Bill did not pass, but in 1940 Congress passed the Smith Act making such speech a crime. Walker) The ACLU also fought hard for free speech, from 1921 to present day, through the Civil Rights movements, the Great Depression, World War II, and even the terrorist acts of 9/11 and today. Over its span of existence the ACLU has had a great number of historical and ground-breaking victories. First year victories included the Palmer Raids case for politically radical immigrants and the support of trade unionists ability to hold meetings, organize, and secure the release of imprisoned anti-war activists. The next case that changed America was the Scopes Trial of 1925.

When the state of Tennessee passed a law banning the teaching of evolution, the ACLU recruited biology teacher John T. Scopes to challenge the law by teaching the banned subject in his class. When Scopes was eventually prosecuted, the ACLU partnered with celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow to defend him. 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. (“ACLU History”) After these major victories and the mass of public attention the ACLU hit a split. In 1939 Roger Baldwin suddenly renounced Communism and kicked everyone with Stalinist sympathies, including charter member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, out of the organization” (Fuller). This change in the organization split membership and views right down between the support or dropping of Communist ideas and practices. As World War II began and the United States got involved the ACLU resolidified as one to speak out about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack. The ACLU also joined with the NAACP on the Supreme Court decision in Brown v.

Board of Education that ended the era of “separate but equal,” becoming a major victory for racial justice and these two organizations. The ACLU also had victories like in 1973 for Women’s rights to privacy about the decision to abort or keep a pregnancy, and in 1978 when the ACLU defended a Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, where many Holocaust survivors lived. The ACLU persuaded a federal court to strike down three ordinances that placed significant restrictions on the Nazis’ First Amendment right to march and express their views.

The decision to take the case was a demonstration of the ACLU’S commitment to the principle that constitutional rights must apply to even the most unpopular groups if they’re going to be preserved for everyone. (“ACLU History) They were also victorious in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case that allowed privacy and intimacy for same-sex partners, previously illegal in Texas. The ACLU as also been a major competitor for the removal of censorship, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state.

The American Civil Liberties Union today is a very powerful and opular defendant of the American people. The ACLU’s motto is “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself” (Wikipedia). The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization 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. ” Legally, the ACLU consists of two separate but closely affiliated nonprofit organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, a civic social welfare group, and the ACLU Foundation, a public charity.

Both organizations engage in civil rights litigation, advocacy, and education, but only donations to the foundation are tax deductible. The two organizations share office space and employees. (Wikipedia) The ACLU also has been working to restore the rights of the people after the government intrusions after the 9/11 attacks and most recently the war on ISIS. “The ACLU has been working vigorously… from opposing the Patriot Act to challenging warrantless spying to challenging the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge or trial,… invade privacy, imprison people without due process, and punish dissent” (“ACLU History’).

The ACLU today has over two million members and only defends those cases that are sure issues with the Constitution and Civil Liberties ensuring their victory. One of the most recent activities of the ACLU is the response to Donald Trump as President of the United States. The A. C. L. U. sees itself as a leader in the opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda. It lead the charge on Saturday (January 28, 2017) with the lawsuit in New York that resulted in an emergency ruling by a federal judge blocking the deportation of detainees who had already landed here… Even before Mr. Trump’s executive order on immigration, the A. C. L. U. ad received more than $47 million from 400,000 donors, Mr. Romero said.

The organization used the money (the largest surge in donations in its 97 year history, he said] to hire 200 staff members, primarily lawyers. “That is the Trump Effect,” Mr. Romero said. “Those 400,000 people, who donated to us, I didn’t go after them; they came to us… Our website crashed we had so many donations, we couldn’t handle it. ” (Stack) These activities and the system of the ACLU has greatly changed America and continue to do so. The American Civil Liberties Union has been around for almost one hundred years and its time has never been wasted.

From its rough Communist beginning to the primary defense of the rights of the American people today, the ACLU has had some well won victories and has even changed history and the nation itself. The ACLU became one of the greatest assets for the defense of the American people. This organization protects the rights and liberties of all, from free speech and expression to that of religion and secularity, Civil Rights for minorities and women, and even that of the most unpopular groups who deserve their freedom in the country as much as any other.

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