Not many of us have had to fight or go into a legal process with or against the government, the state or the establishment. In fact, not many of us know or understand what it feels to be in court, either as a person who is being accused or as the person that accuses another one of something illegal or wrong.
Sometimes, believe it or not, having a legal process where the other party is the government or where constitutional rights are being violated is as hard as it gets. Lawyers, processes, courts, judges, the media and many other factors are there to make every little step is a leap of faith.
Fortunately, in the Illinois area, there is an institution called American Civil Liberties Union Illinois that works towards protecting all the liberties and rights that are written down in the United States Constitution, the state Constitution, and any state or federal human rights laws.
Here is their story, how they came to be and some of their main programs for the community.
The ACLU of Illinois was founded in 1929 and since then it has been the main body dedicated to protecting and to socialize all the constitutional rights in the state of Illinois. In short, they aim at protecting all the constitutional rights that are harmed by the state or by any other person in the United States. They also have a main affiliate which the Roger Baldwin Foundation (RBF). The ACLU apart from helping people and offering counseling and advice, they aim at educating people about their rights as citizens of the United States, litigating in case they have to intervene and many rights are being attacked and lobbying with institutions and political players so they can protect the people and their rights.
In 1969, The ACLU took the RBF, which was the tax-deductible part of the ACLU itself, and merged with it to include more topics and issues to the educational programs. Also, that allowed the ACLU to litigate more and to accept more high profile cases.
Some of the most common topics or issues that ACLU accepts are in the areas of racial justice, religious cases where liberties are violated, freedom of expression, children and everything related to their rights, people with disabilities, criminal justice reform, community issues, and reproductive justice. Their scope was widened after 9/11 because after that event they could handle cases, and in fact, those types of cases increased, that had to do with government interference, detention, and racial and religious profiling that violated constitutional liberties.
As said before, ACLU addresses many issues that have to do with civil liberties. They have a wide range of issues where they work. Here are some of them:
Freedom of Speech: freedom of speech also includes assembly, association, petition, and press. The ACLU a lot of times defends positions that they don’t agree with. For example, they defend the right that people have to place leaflets in government premises such as the Chicago Federal Plaza or the McCormick Place Convention Center, even though they strongly disagree with some of the positions written on the leaflets. The idea is to defend the right to say and express any idea, even if they don’t agree with it because they think that the best way to protect freedom of speech and is to protect the speech people disagree with. In that same line, the ACLU protects the right that every government employee has to support or not support any political candidate. And as mentioned before, after 9/11, the ACLU is a strong contradictor and opposes the spying by federal and local agencies on people or groups based on their beliefs or religious inclination.
Another issue that the ACLU addresses is the one where the government keeps an eye on the society. Often, and now more than the normal rate, the government is watching over the community like its big brother. It used to be certain communities, but after 9/11 things got even harder. The government has the constitutional right to do such surveillance when it comes to people within their territory, but they cannot abuse that right. The government often harasses and does surveillance to people where there is little to no evidence to do such thing. The ACLU helps people on this matter because they inform the community on the topic and they advocate for victims where they see that the government is abusing its legal right to collect information. The ACLU was one of the institutions that led the legal battle that challenged the relationship that phone companies had with the National Security Agency when they wanted to look at the all the phone records in order to make it easier to collect information, which in turn was a federal violation of the constitutional rights of millions of people.
Before you leave, be sure to also check this amazing post on an institution that is giving decent meals and a fair treatment to homeless people in Chicago