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Recently an ACLU of Indiana member from your region brought to our attention a guest column in your paper that ran Nov. 14 headlined, “What’s behind the ACLU name?”
The column, by Jim Adkins, fundamentally misrepresented the work and mission of the ACLU. As a member of the ACLU since 2002, the newest staff member at the Indiana affiliate, and as its communication-education director, I’d like to respond.
The ACLU I’ve come to know over the past few months cares deeply about protecting and defending the constitutional rights, liberties and freedom guaranteed to all people in our state — not just the people whose behavior is popular — but all the people. Most of the time that means employing our limited nonprofit resources to litigate on behalf of those who are least able to afford or secure representation, including prisoners, homeless, children, immigrants and others whose civil liberties have been violated by government.
With few means to resist, these are folks who are railroaded into our already overcrowded prisons by an inadequate and unconstitutional criminal justice system.
Our legal team, made up of two attorneys and a paralegal, receives approximately 800 requests for assistance per month. These are not lawyers getting rich off billable hours. Every night and every weekend, these folks walk out of here with armloads of files. They easily put in double or triple the hours per week of the average worker, for below-average compensation and no reward other than doing the right thing.
Yes, we often take on controversial cases. The recent free-speech case over the “I (heart) BOOBIES” bracelet on behalf of a Monticello middle-school student who wanted to express his support for breast cancer research seems controversial until you consider that even our youth don’t shed their First Amendment rights when they enter school buildings.
In the past year the ACLU of Indiana handled 10,000 requests for assistance and tried more than 40 cases, culminating in a historic single day when two separate courts ruled in our favor to prevent two onerous acts of the Indiana General Assembly from being enacted.
It was the ACLU of Indiana that prevented Planned Parenthood of Indiana from being defunded and it was the ACLU of Indiana that stopped an unconstitutional anti-immigration law from taking effect. We have prevented the establishment of religion, as in South Bend, where the government tried to give taxpayer property to a religious institution.
We’ve also litigated on behalf of Christians and others for their constitutional rights to practice their religion.
The fact is, the ACLU is deeply principled. We fight for your constitutional rights. We do not endorse political candidates, and we take no taxpayer dollars. Every case we fight, and every letter we write, we owe to the generosity of our supporters and members.
Please visit our Web site, www.aclu-in.org, to learn more about our services and our case docket, and to seek legal assistance if you need it. And remember, if the government tried to stop Mr. Adkins from writing his letter, no matter how inaccurate the content, the ACLU of Indiana would be on the front lines defending his First Amendment rights to do so.
KELLY JONES SHARP
Director of Communications and Education,
American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana