For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.
Whether it’s achieving full equality for LGBT people, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age of widespread government surveillance, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.
With more than 2 million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., to safeguard everyone’s rights.
IN THE BEGINNING
“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.” — ACLU founder Roger Baldwin
When a roomful of civil liberties activists — led by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Albert DeSilver — formed the ACLU in 1920, the Supreme Court had yet to uphold a single free speech claim. Activists languished in jail for distributing anti-war literature. State-sanctioned violence against African-Americans was routine. Women won the right to vote only in August of that year. And constitutional rights for LGBT people were unthinkable.
The ACLU was founded to ensure the promise of the Bill of Rights and to expand its reach to people historically denied its protections. In our first year, we fought the harassment and deportation of immigrants whose activism put them at odds with the authorities. In 1939, we won in the Supreme Court the right for unions to organize. We stood almost alone in 1942 in denouncing our government’s round-up and internment in concentration camps of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans. And at times in our history when frightened civilians have been willing to give up some of their freedoms and rights in the name of national security, the ACLU has been the bulwark for liberty.
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO
The ACLU is frequently asked to explain its defense of certain people or groups — particularly controversial and unpopular entities such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Nation of Islam, and the National Socialist Party of America. We do not defend them because we agree with them. Rather we defend their right to free expression and free assembly.
Historically, the people whose opinions are the most controversial or extreme are the people whose rights are most often threatened. Once the government has the power to violate one person’s rights, it can use that power against everyone. We work to stop the erosion of civil liberties before it’s too late.
HOW WE DO IT
We have grown from a roomful of civil libertarians to more than 1 million members, activists, and supporters across the country. The ACLU is now a nationwide organization with a 50-state network of staffed affiliate offices filing cases in both state and federal courts. We appear before the Supreme Court more than any other organization except the Department of Justice.
In addition, we work to change policy as well as hearts and minds. Our Washington Legislative Office lobbies Congress to pass bills that advance or defend civil liberties and defeat those that do not, our affiliates work in state houses across the country to do the same, and we use strategic communications to engage supporters on the most pressing civil liberties issues of our time. The defense of America’s core liberties cannot rely on the courts alone. Politics and public opinion matter too.
The ACLU is nonprofit and nonpartisan. We do not receive any government funding. Member dues as well as contributions and grants from private foundations and individuals pay for the work we do.