How to Join the ACLU

Contributing to the ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union has been around since 1920, and is best known as the organization that provides legal assistance to people who feel their civil rights have been violated. Before deciding that you want to join this group, it may help to know something of their history.

In 1915, a group of antiwar pacifists founded an organization known as AUAM – Americans United Against Militarism, in order to work against the United States involvement in the first World War and the mandatory draft. This group published leaflets, newsletters, and magazines with anti-war content – and though their actions were completely non violent and benign, the mood of the country in this time was such that the AUAM was accused of being unpatriotic, anti-American, etc. Some of the members were even prosecuted by the government for so called “war crimes”. A branch formed within the AUAM, known as the Civil Liberties Bureau, which provided legal aid to people prosecuted for such crimes.

After the AUAM faded, the National Civil Liberties Bureau was kept active by its members, who incidentally lost almost every case they fought during wartime. Over time, this group’s litigation skills and sway within the political community grew, and the group was renamed the ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union.

Some famous cases the ACLU has been involved in

  • 1925, Scopes Monkey Trial – In probably the most infamous trial in which the ACLU was involved, ACLU officials convinced a teacher, John T. Scopes, to defy Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in court. Though the ACLU and Scopes ended up on the losing side, this landmark case opened up a national debate on the teaching of evolution that continues today.
  • 1931, Stromberg vs. The People of California – Yetta Stromberg ran a Communist children’s camp, and fought for her right to display a “Red flag” on the camp’s grounds. The Supreme Court found in favor of Stromberg, striking down a California law which disallowed such a flag to be displayed.
  • 1962, Engel vs. Vitale – One of many cases which struck down public school’s ability to enforce the teaching of the Bible and Christian prayer.
  • 1967, Loving vs. Virginia – The ACLU argued against state bans on interracial marriage, and in this landmark case they won.
  • 2008, Flint, MI – ACLU attorneys fight city ordinances against “sagging” (wearing pants below the waist) saying it is a form of racial profiling.

When you’re ready to join the ACLU, you’ll find it an easy task. Thanks to the internet, joining the ACLU is as easy as making a non tax deductible donation to the organization via their website.

You may wonder why a donation to the ACLU isn’t tax deductible – it is due to federal law. Because the ACLU spends an inordinate amount of time and money lobbying the federal government, their ability to accept tax deductible donations is severely limited. If you do want to make a donation that is tax deductible, that option exists as well.

Simply go the ACLU’s website (aclu.org) and click the “Join the ACLU” tag at the top right of the page. Should you want to make a tax deductible donation, you can donate to the ACLU Foundation – your money will go to support the ACLU’s efforts, though you will not be a true member of the ACLU. To do that, you must donate directly to the ACLU and swallow the cost of the donation. Don’t think you have to spend an arm and a leg to join – the lowest level of membership is just $20, and donors can give as much as they want from there. Membership in the national ACLU gives you access to your state’s branch of the ACLU as well, and you get a card in the mail. You’re now a card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Why should you join the ACLU? If you believe in protecting those liberties granted to us as American citizens in the Constitution, you can feel good about giving money to support that cause. Browsing the ACLU website today, I see headlines about the national ID card program, video surveillance, wage discrimination, and a wide range of other issues that are at the forefront of today’s political climate. The ACLU exists to speak on behalf of citizens in the face of a government that too often overlooks “the little guy”. Besides the satisfaction of supporting a political cause you believe in, there’s the nifty membership card you can show off to your friends.

It is easy to join the ACLU, and membership will give you a sense of satisfaction. Stand up for what you believe in, and visit ACLU.org today.

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