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These web pages, maintained by the Champaign County ACLU, were last updated on October 1, 2023 by bi

A brief description of the American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU - Guardian of Liberty

The American Civil Liberties Union is the nation's foremost advocate of individual rights--litigating, legislating and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting individual freedom in the United States. This is a general introduction and history to the ACLU, the first in a series of "briefing papers."Other briefing papers, produced by the ACLU Office of Public Education, explain the organization's position on a range of specific civil liberties issues.

The American system of government is built on two basic, counter-balancing principles: 1) that the majority of the people, through democratically elected representatives, governs the country and 2) that the power of even a democratic majority must be limited to insure individual rights. In every era of American history, the government has tried to expand its authority at the expense of individual rights. The American Civil Liberties Union exists to make sure that doesn't happen, and to fight back when it does.

The ACLU is not a public defender like Legal Services or Legal Aid. It does not handle criminal cases or civil disputes or choose clients according to financial criteria. Nor do we take political sides; we are neither liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat. The ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 250,000-member public interest organization devoted exclusively to protecting the basic civil liberties of all Americans, and extending them to groups that have traditionally been denied them. In its over seven decades in existence, the ACLU has become a national institution, and is widely recognized as the country's foremost advocate of individual rights.

The ACLU Mandate

The mission of the ACLU is to assure that the Bill of Rights--amendments to the Constitution that guard against unwarranted governmental control--are preserved for each new generation. To understand the ACLU's purpose, it is important to distinguish between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution itself, whose bicentennial we celebrated in 1987, authorizes the government to act. The Bill of Rights limits that authority.

What rights are guaranteed in the Bill
  • FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS: These include freedom of speech,association and assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, including the strict separation between church and state.
  • EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW: The right to equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, physical handicap, or other such classification. These rights apply to the voting booth, the classroom, the workplace and the courts.
  • DUE PROCESS OF LAW: The right to be treated fairly when facing criminal charges or other serious accusations that can result in such penalties as loss of employment, exclusion from school, denial of housing, or cut-off of benefits.
  • THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY: The right to a guaranteed zone of personal privacy and autonomy which cannot be penetrated by the government or by other institutions, like employers, with substantial influence over an individual's rights.
  • EXPANDING THOSE PROTECTIONS: Although some segments of our population have traditionally been denied those rights, the ACLU works to extend protection to racial minorities, homosexuals, mental patients, prisoners, soldiers, children in the custody of the state, the handicapped, and Native Americans.