How the ACLU Works

ACLU Opposition

People oppose the ACLU for many different reasons. Often, it comes down to a single issue or set of issues. For example, many religious groups oppose the ACLU because it actively works to maintain the separation of church and state. These efforts gain extra attention every December when they speak out against religious displays and nativity scenes on government property. In recent years, this has turned into a backlash against a perceived "War on Christmas."

One of the most pervasive opponents of the ACLU is Catholic League President William A. Donohue. He has written several books on the ACLU, and has praised it at times for fighting for the civil liberties of Catholics. Conversely, Donohue has stated that the ACLU's defense of freedom of speech has led to civil disorder as well as expensive and unnecessary social service programs [ref]. Criticism of the ACLU also stems from the feeling that some civil liberties should be restricted in favor of security, especially in times of war or crisis. Considering the origins of the ACLU, it is unlikely that it would ever agree with such a position.

The ACLU's collection of attorneys' fees also concerns some critics. If the ACLU wins a case argued by one if its attorneys, it can sue for recovery of attorneys' fees. Government officials, agencies and institutions are often immune to this sort of recovery, but not always (it depends on the applicable laws and the nature of the civil rights violation). These fees can be very costly, often reaching six figures. Some claim that the ACLU uses these fees as a form of intimidation, forcing municipalities to do what it says for fear of paying tremendous fees [ref]. Some see this as a case of government money ("tax-payer dollars") indirectly funding the ACLU. However, other legal aid organizations sue to collect attorneys' fees as well.

Regardless of its critics, the ACLU isn't likely to go anywhere -- it's been one of the most active (and controversial) legal aid organizations of the past 80 years. Whether they agree or disagree with its policies, the ACLU's actions have encouraged many Americans to closely consider the rights granted them by the Constitution.

Check out the links below for more information about the ACLU and related topics.

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More Great Links


  • "About the ACLU."
  • "ACLU and PFAW Seek $488,601.10 in Attorneys Fees in Filtering Suit." Tech Law Journal, February 10, 1999.
  • "ACLU Defends Nazis' Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters." The Onion, October 14, 2003.
  • "American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Foundation: What is the Difference?"
  • "Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director."
  • Barnett, Dean. "Society of Doom? Despite what you may have heard, there's nothing bad about the Federalist Society." Weekly Standard, October 20, 2005. idArticle=6236
  • "Cooperating Attorneys." ACLU of New Jersey.
  • Donohue, William A. "The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union." Transaction, 1985. ISBN 0887380212.
  • Gibson, James L. & Bingham, Richard D. "Civil Liberties and Nazis." Praeger, 1985. ISBN 0030016347.
  • Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925). Supreme Court Multimedia.
  • Introduction to the Engel v. Vitale Court Case. United States Department of State: Basic Readings in U.S. Democracy.
  • Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952). ACLU Montana.
  • "O'Reilly: 'Hitler would be a card-carrying ACLU member. So would Stalin.'"
  • Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944). ACLU Montana.
  • Stromberg v. People Of State Of California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931). ACLU Montana.
  • Taranto, James & Donohue, William A. "The Assault on Public Order: How the Civil Liberties Union Goes Astray." City Journal, Winter 1992.
  • Walker, Samuel. "In Defense of American Liberties." Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. ISBN 0809322807.
  • West Virginia State Board Of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). ACLU Montana.