FAQs

How does the ACLU decide which causes to defend?
Because the ACLU has a limited budget and staff, it is impossible to represent every person whose civil liberties have been violated. Instead, the organization tries to select cases which will impact the greatest number of people – those cases which have the potential to break new ground or establish new precedents to strengthen the freedoms all of us should enjoy. The ACLU has represented African-Americans and Latinos who were denied their right to vote; it has represented the elderly and children denied their constitutional rights; it has represented workers denied their right to organize into unions; it has represented journalists who refused to reveal their confidential sources; and it has represented teachers and others fired from their jobs because they were gay or lesbian.

The ACLU always seems concerned about minorities. Doesn’t the majority have rights, too?
For over 80 years, the ACLU has challenged violations against civil liberties, regardless of who has been victimized. It is a principle of our democratic system that the majority of the people, through elected representatives, governs the country. However, a fundamental principle of American democracy is that even a democratic majority cannot be permitted to tyrannize the minority and restrict individual rights. For example, prior to the Civil War, a majority of U.S. citizens favored slavery. Fortunately the government moved to ensure basic freedoms for all Americans.

You’re all a bunch of liberals, aren’t you?
The ACLU is a nonpartisan group. We have defended people across the political spectrum, from the Moral Majority and Oliver North to John Scopes and communists. The ACLU strongly supports women’s right to choose abortion, yet we have also supported the right of anti-abortion activists to protest near abortion clinics. The ACLU has won support from women’s groups for our stand on women’s rights, but has angered some feminists for our First Amendment stand on pornography. In short, the principled stance we take on defending the Bill of Rights is neither liberal nor conservative.

Is the ACLU really opposed to the Pledge of Allegiance?
The ACLU is not opposed to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and encourages honoring our nation’s flag. However, the ACLU opposes the government forcing people to recite the pledge or treat the flag in certain ways. The most genuine patriotism is found in the hearts and minds of the American people. That’s why the ACLU is opposed to imposing the symbols of patriotism on people.

Why does the ACLU defend the rights of groups such as the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan?
If the government can take away rights from one person, it can take rights away from anyone. For example, the principle by which the Ku Klux Klan has the right to march is the same one that allows civil rights activists to march against racism. Our Bill of Rights and our laws should apply equally to all those living in the United States.

The ACLU’s mission is to defend the Bill of Rights – even if that means defending an organization or individual whose message we despise. Read “Why the ACLU Defends Free Speech for Unpopular Groups.” go »

The ACLU is opposed to censorship, but aren’t there limits to what can be published?
The ACLU believes that under our Constitution’s First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech, adults should have the right to read and watch and listen to whatever they choose. The organization is opposed to restraints on what can be published or distributed to adults. Attempts to do so are usually an effort by vocal, well-organized groups to impose their own values on all Americans.

Why does the ACLU support pornography?
The ACLU does not support pornography or child pornography. However, we do oppose virtually all forms of censorship. Possessing certain books or films, even pornographic ones, should not make one a criminal. Once society starts censoring “bad or offensive” ideas, it becomes very difficult to draw the line.

As for child pornography, the ACLU supports the government’s efforts to prosecute the makers of child pornography for exploiting minors.

Does the ACLU support campaign finance reform?
The ACLU supports providing public financing to assist candidates running for office, because providing all candidates with adequate funding to advertise on television, mail information, and travel will create a more equitable political system. However, the ACLU opposes the idea of putting contribution and spending limits on citizens and candidates because doing so would limit free speech.

Why is the ACLU against religion?
The ACLU strongly supports our country’s guarantee that all people have the right to practice their own religion, as well as the right not to practice any religion. The best way to ensure religious freedom for all is to keep the government out of the business of pushing religion on anybody.

The ACLU strongly supports the separation of church and state. In practice, this means that people may practice their religion — but not with government funding or sponsorship. This simple principle in no way banishes or weakens religion. It only means that no one should have somebody else’s religion forced on him or her, even if most other people in a community support that religion.

Why does the ACLU seem to care so much about the rights of criminals and those accused of crimes?
The ACLU doesn’t believe in “going soft” on criminals. The ACLU supports just, reasonable law enforcement, even tough enforcement. However, we believe everyone is entitled to a fair trial and all rights of due process guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Under the U.S. legal system, you are also guaranteed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Police and court studies have shown no reduction in the ability to fight crime because basic constitutional rights are accorded to those arrested for crimes. In fact, we’re all better off when police “play by the rules” and respect our Bill of Rights.

What about the victims of crime; don’t they have rights?
The ACLU believes that victims of crime have an entire range of rights available to them, including the right to receive restitution, recover damages in civil actions against criminals, and the right to be free from intimidation.

Why does the ACLU help sex offenders?
The ACLU supports the prosecution and conviction of sex offenders. These offenders should receive appropriate punishment—especially repeat offenders. However, like all convicted felons, these offenders are entitled to some basic constitutional protections. In this regard, the ACLU opposes locking up an individual indefinitely—potentially for life—after he has served his prison term. The punishment is based not on additional wrongful acts, but on speculation that the person may commit illegal acts in the future. This is unconstitutional preventive detention. It is based on the unscientific notion that society can predict with any reasonable standard of accuracy how a particular individual will act at some unspecified time.

Is the ACLU against drug testing in the workplace?
Drug abuse is a major problem within the American workplace, just as it is within society at large. But it is both unfair and unnecessary to force millions of Americans who are not even suspected of using drugs to prove their innocence through degrading and unreliable urine tests. Employers have a right to expect sober, competent, and safe performances in their work force. The best way to achieve this is through supervision.

By the way, the ACLU is not opposed to eye-to-hand coordination tests to gauge an employee’s ability to operate dangerous equipment, vehicles, or airplanes. And the ACLU believes that competent supervision, professional counseling, and voluntary rehabilitation programs may not be as simple as drug tests, but they are a better investment in America.

What is the ACLU’s position on abortion?
The ACLU strongly supports the right of a woman to a safe and legal abortion and to control her own reproductive system. The ACLU believes that personal decisions about family size and quality of life should not be decided for people by the government.

Why doesn’t the ACLU support gun ownership or gun control?
The ACLU has often been criticized for “ignoring the Second Amendment,” and refusing to fight for an individual’s right to own a gun or other weapons. The ACLU, however, has not ignored this issue. The national ACLU Board of Directors has in fact discussed the civil liberties aspects of the Second Amendment many times. We believe that the constitutional right to bear arms is primarily a collective one, intended mainly to protect the right of the states to maintain militias to assure their own freedom and security against the central government. In today’s world, that idea is somewhat anachronistic and in any case would require weapons much more powerful than handguns or hunting rifles. The ACLU therefore believes that the Second Amendment does not confer an unlimited right upon individuals to own guns or other weapons nor does it prohibit reasonable regulation of gun ownership, such as licensing and registration.

Why should I care if the government listens to my phone calls, sees my email, tracks my Internet use, or has personal information about me. I’m not doing anything wrong!
Americans have the right to expect that their lives will not become an open book when they have not done, and are not even suspected of doing, anything wrong. When the government collects data on millions of Americans, our privacy rights are slowly eroded, and the potential for abuse by government officials increases exponentially. And while such data may be collected in an effort to fight terrorism, it is not likely to be effective, and may in fact actually reduce our security by draining resources from more productive measures like improved collection of on-the-ground foreign intelligence. Read more

Read FAQs on the National ACLU website:
https://www.aclu.org/faqs