America is visionary: an unprecedented experiment in government founded to unite its people not by race, nor by religion, nor by royalty, but rather, by a shared foundation of democratic principles as expressed in the U.S. Constitution.
Our founders clearly envisioned a public ready and able to denounce and repel tyranny by government, and the founders made individual rights and liberties a cornerstone of this new republic.
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which were ratified in 1791 and are known as the Bill of Rights, include familiar protections such as your right to free speech, to due process if you are arrested, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures by government. This Bill of Rights is really a "toolkit" with which we, the people, can vigorously restrain our government when it oversteps its limited constitutional authority.
On our Independence Day, we should take a moment to thank the founders for their vision—but we should also remember that protecting these individual rights is up to all of us, every day. In reality, people often hesitate to defend the rights of those with whom they disagree: Activists often go against the flow of popular opinion, and there are many ways in which the majority can (and does) work to selectively silence marginal voices.
The real challenge posed to us by the Bill of Rights is to confront any abridgment of these rights by government, no matter how unpopular the target, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because limitations placed on the rights of the most marginalized of us will one day diminish the rights of us all.
The U.S. Supreme Court had yet to uphold a single free speech claim when Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Albert DeSilver and others formed the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. Activists languished in jail for distributing anti-war literature. State-sanctioned violence against African-Americans was routine. Women did not even have the right to vote until August of that year. Since 1920, the ACLU has been the nation’s guardian of the Bill of Rights.
Today, the ACLU is second only to the U.S. Department of Justice in bringing cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.
The ACLU of Hawaii, founded in 1965, celebrates 45 years of service in 2010. Some of our most important work over the years has been in reforming brutal conditions in Hawaii’s prisons and youth detention facilities, defending the rights of protestors, pushing back against spurious government erosions of individual privacy and seeking equality for Hawaii’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
The ACLU is here for everyone. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that exists simply to protect and defend the Bill of Rights, the ACLU is independently funded and does not seek or accept government funding.
Active in the courts, Legislature and in public forums, the ACLU monitors the government on diverse issues of civil rights including free speech, freedom of religion and belief, government spying and torture, reproductive choice, the emerging area of Internet privacy, and more.
The promise of America inspires us all, every day—and when the reality of America fails to meet the promise of America, when the government fails to uphold the Constitution, even against the least of us, it’s up to us all to take note, speak up and speak out. Protest is patriotic, and the ACLU has your back.
President, ACLU of Hawaii