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We are pleased by the news that one of Perry County’s own has been appointed to the board of directors for the ACLU of Indiana.
As the News reported Thursday, Chris Coyle, a graduate of Tell City High School and former Perry County paramedic, considers his appointment an honor. We understand him feeling that way, and believe the honor is not his alone. It’s a “local man does good (for a whole lot of other people)” kind of story that seems to say something good about our community.
The state and national organizations have always stood up against threats to the rights of all citizens, regardless of how far they lived from urban centers. Today’s technology makes communication with any ACLU office, including the transmission of documents, pictures, video recordings and video conferences, easily instant. Having one of its board members among us, however, seems to put us closer to the organization than any electronic communication could facilitate.
In expressing his own pride about being selected, Coyle described recent achievements of the state organization that we are sure angered many people. It went to court and secured blocks against one new law that stopped funding from going to Planned Parenthood and another aimed at illegal immigrants. Proponents of the legislation aimed at Planned Parenthood claimed to be thwarting abortion, but their law was a sledge hammer swatting a fly. As we noted on this page May 23, the damage it would have wrought would have hurt many women who can’t afford health care.
The illegal-immigration law would have been equally damaging in the ways it would have affected the lives of many Americans who have no reason to be bothered by the government they elect and support financially.
What is the ACLU?
Perhaps the best way to illustrate its intent is to present an idea espoused by by author Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pen name, S.G. Tallentyre, who said she was describing an attitude held by Voltaire:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire was French and Hall was English, but that idea has become inextricably linked to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan expressed the idea when he wrote the majority opinion in a 1989 case known as Texas v. Johnson. The justices were putting that court’s blessing on what many consider one of the most heinous of acts: The burning of the American flag.
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” Brennan wrote. “Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.”
Any one of us may object to the individual causes the ACLU champions. Those among us who dislike homosexuality, and those who think public schools should be responsible for religious education, for example, have spoken against the group. But a close examination of the organization’s arguments shows that it pursues the mission its name describes: the protection of American civil liberties.
The ACLU is an important adjunct to the American system of governance. Included in our system of balances is the legislative branch, which makes laws. The judicial branch is charged with upholding them, but judges don’t seek out injustices; someone must carry complaints into courtrooms. The ACLU does that, often on behalf of those who don’t have the resources to do it for themselves. It protects Americans’ right to avoid harassment if there’s no reason to believe they’re violating the law. And it steps in when the law attempts to violate Americans.
We commend you, Chris, for stepping up to that challenge.
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