As president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Nadine Strossen gives more than 200 speeches a year. On Sept. 27, students at UTM had the opportunity to listen to Strossen as she talked about how the ACLU is defending civil liberties for people in today’s society.
“We believe you have certain rights and we will be there to defend them,” Strossen said in opening remarks about her organization.
The ACLU is the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization in the country. Strossen has been serving in the volunteer post of president since 1991.
Nearly 15 protesters were present outside the Elam Center passing out literature about actions that the ACLU had taken they did not agree with and holding up signs with slogans that made reference to the ACLU being anti-Christian.
Losing Republican Party State Senate candidate Dennis Doster was one of those involved in the protest. “The reason we are here is because this group talks about standing up for civil liberties but they are not doing what the people want,” Doster said. “People like things such as the Ten Commandments being kept in place and this group (ACLU) is going unchallenged.”
Soon into her speech, Strossen mentioned the people outside who were protesting. She said that she went around and shook each of their hands and told them that they had a right to protest and that if anyone ever infringed upon those rights they should contact the ACLU.
Strossen mentioned that people have come up with several different acronyms for the ACLU that are different than the actual meaning.
One of those acronyms is “Anti-Christian Liberties Union.” In actuality, Strossen says, the ACLU has defended many Christians before.
According to Strossen, after the ACLU’s involvement, a Michigan high school agreed to stop censoring Christian submissions in a student yearbook. In California the ACLU recently defended an 8th grade student’s right to wear a shirt that read “Real women love Jesus.”
Strossen went on to explain to the audience that the ACLU takes a neutral stance on most political issues and that the ACLU’s clients have included both Democrats and Republicans. She also said that the ACLU represents all of its clients free of charge.
Much of Strossen’s speech focused on the civil liberties that have been restricted in America after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Strossen made reference to the speech that President George Bush gave after the attacks while he was standing at ‘Ground Zero.’
“The president told us all that America is a beacon of freedom… ever since those words, the ACLU has been working to help the president keep that vow,” Strossen said.
Strossen says that some of the actions that have been taken after 9/11 are warranted but cautions that before the government imposes any type of restriction that the restrictions should be justified. “America should be safe and free. Many of the post 9/11 actions are justified but others decrease our freedoms and do not increase our security,” Strossen said.
Strossen compared the Patriot Act, which was passed by 99 U.S. Senators, to a fishing drag net that sweeps in too much information and makes it difficult to separate. She then stated that out of the 160 provisions that are found in the Patriot Act, the ACLU is criticizing roughly a dozen of those provisions.
The legislative branch is the branch of government that passed the Patriot Act. But there are actions of the president’s branch of government that Strossen does not agree with either. “This administration wants an extreme assertion of unilateral executive branch power,” Strossen said. She then cited President Bush’s attempts at having the power to declare someone an enemy combatant and then locking that person up in jail without giving them any of the rights of due process. The Supreme Court ruled against someone being able to declared an enemy combatant in an 8-1 decision.
But, according to Strossen, President Bush is not the only president who has tried to overuse executive branch power and infringe upon civil liberties. Strossen says that similar action has been taken under nearly every president in a time of national crisis including former President Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Before taking questions Strossen concluded with a poem that was used to emphasize the importance of fighting for civil liberties. She then gave a challenge to everyone in attendance. “I want to convince you that you have a personal stake in defending people’s rights,” Strossen said. “Sept. 11 cannot be the day that liberty perished in this country.”
Senior Jay McCurdy was one of over 300 students that were in attendance. “I was impressed. She defended her stances very well. I also was really impressed with the fact that nothing she said was based on her own opinion. It was all based on the stance that the ACLU takes and it was based on the law,” McCurdy said.
“The National Law Journal” has twice named Strossen one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” She comments frequently in the national media, having appeared on virtually every national news program. Strossen has authored one book, co-authored another and published approximately 250 scholarly works. Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College in 1972 and magna cum laude in 1975 from Harvard Law School, where she was editor of the Harvard Law Review. She now teaches law classes at New York Law School.