Welcome to the website of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU of Arkansas) and the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLUF). Defending your rights is what the ACLU and ACLUF are all about. (See the difference at bottom of page)
The ACLU of Arkansas is dedicated to promoting, defending and expanding civil liberties in Arkansas. Civil liberties are rights that are guaranteed to all citizens, such as:
- freedom of speech and the press
- religious liberty
- racial and ethnic equality
- due process (government agencies following the law)
- immigrants’ rights
- LGBT rights
- reproductive freedom
These rights and others are preserved in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. The mission of the ACLU is to ensure that all Arkansans are able to fully exercise all the liberties promised to them by law. We like to say that our client is the Bill of Rights.
Civil liberties protect people from the power of the government and what the brilliant political thinker John Stuart Mill called the “tyranny of the majority.”
What is the “tyranny of the majority”? Doesn't the majority rule?
Civil liberties protect us from those who try to use the power of their numbers, influence, or position in government to force their views and values on others. Government agencies lawfully have the power to impact our lives in many ways, and the government is made up of people to whom we have given certain powers. We have empowered the legislature, police, city councils, public schools, and other public agencies to make and enforce laws for the good of society.
However, the Constitution bars public officials and agencies from doing things that violate our civil liberties, even when the majority agrees with them. Here are some examples:
- A city council makes it illegal for anyone to criticize the mayor in public. That law will be struck down under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a violation of free speech.
- A rogue police officer searches someone’s home without a warrant and takes some items as evidence of a crime. Because the Fourth Amendment protects each of us against illegal searches, the items taken by the officer cannot be used in court.
- A public school board’s members are all of one religion. The board makes a rule that all students in the district must recite prayers of their faith. That policy will be struck down because the First Amendment prohibits the government from showing preference toward one religion (or religion over no religion) or dictating how a person practices their faith.
So, in the examples above, what if the majority of the people agrees with the city council, the police officer, or the school board? What if the mayor does not deserve criticism? What if the person whose home was searched had committed a crime? What if only one child in the district has a faith different from the everyone else? The Bill of Rights protects the civil liberties of these individuals from those in power, in the government or in the majority. That is the beauty of our system and Constitution. That is the meaning of freedom.
We love America because we cherish freedom. That freedom comes from the fact that We the People created the government and set its limits under the Constitution. We give our public officials ─ from the White House to the schoolhouse ─ their powers. They answer to Us.
Why is protecting our rights sometimes unpopular or controversial?
The ACLU sometimes defends the rights of people with whom we disagree, even those who work against the principles of freedom we defend. We do this because we believe that these rights are what keep us a free nation. We believe that these rights are so important that we cannot allow them to be taken from anyone--even those who would take away our rights.
When we defend the rights of an unpopular position, individual, or group, the same rights are protected for all of us. Our system protects our rights from the influence of the powerful, so that each individual has freedom of speech, due process, freedom of religion, equality, and privacy. We can vote for whomever we like, get a fair trial, and go to a house of worship (or not) as we please, whoever we are, great or small.
It is not the person who protests against the U.S. government who is the most serious threat to freedom. It is the government body that passes laws prohibiting such protests that is dangerous and that has the power to destroy our way of life and our liberty.
We invite you to join us in the cause of keeping us free. Join the ACLU.