In the Arkansas of 1969, abortion was still illegal, LGBTQ people were criminalized for being themselves, the teaching of evolution was banned, and the country was only beginning to free itself from the grip of racial segregation and oppression.

Thankfully, a group of forward-looking leaders recognized the need for an organization that would defend the promises of the Constitution for all Arkansans. By January of 1969, Arkansas had an ACLU affiliate, and we haven’t slowed down since. In celebration of our 50th anniversary of freedom fighting, here is a timeline of 50 of our greatest hits that advanced civil rights in Arkansas.

1. 1960s


1969 – The ACLU of Arkansas is founded and prevails in court for two people arrested for leafleting on a public college campus

2. 1970s


1975 – Successfully challenges the firing of a history professor for his membership in the Progressive Labor Party

1977 – Successfully challenges the state’s involuntary commitment laws

1978 – Secures access to medical care for people incarcerated at the White County Jail by filing suit

1979 – Successfully represents inmates who had taken the vow of the Nazarite and were denied their religious freedom

3. 1980s


1980 – Successfully challenges West Helena’s at-large voting system for diluting the power of Black voters

1981 – Successfully sued a manufacturing company that banned women from working on airplane interiors alongside men

  • Prevails in a suit for student journalists for The Bray, Southern Arkansas University’s student newspaper, ensuring that First Amendment rights apply to student press

1982 – Overturns the Arkansas law requiring the teaching of religious-based “creation science” alongside evolution

  • Secures from Court protection of rights of Little Rock Central High students to hand out flyers opposing tax credits during Nancy Reagan’s visit to the school 

1983 – Prevails in a suit against Vilonia School District for Bible readings, religious assemblies, and restricting school dances to one per year for religious reasons

1984 – Successfully sues to remove a harmful anti-choice amendment from the ballot

1985 – Successfully challenges a state statute that required a pharmacist to allow access to non-prescription contraceptives 

1987 – Successfully sues the University of Arkansas for denying funds to the Gay and Lesbian Student Association

1988 – Successfully sues on behalf of 50 people incarcerated in Pulaski County and chained to a tree in 105-degree heat. 

4. 1990s


1990 – Overturns Watson Chapel High School’s ban of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” 

1991 – Wins First Amendment victory on behalf of disabled veterans denied Veterans Administration care and faced reduced pensions because the veterans criticized care at the VA hospital

1993 – A discriminatory ban on deaf and hearing-impaired people serving on juries is successfully challenged in a suit to safeguard ADA protections

  • Prevails in a suit to require all polling places to be accessible in compliance with ADA

1994 – Successfully sues for student denied time off from cheerleading practice for religious observances 

1996 – Prevails in a challenge of Conway High School’s strip search of students for $64 in missing cash 

1998 – Intervene in Lake View School District school funding formula case to object to a settlement whereby class members received nothing substantive, successfully forcing case to ligation and apt result

1999 – Successfully challenges the state’s ban on placing foster children in a home where an LGBTQ adult resides; has the first trial in the nation on this point

5. 2000s


2000 – Successfully defends an environmentalist fined for distributing literature in a national park; a federal rule is struck down 

2001 – Files successful class-action lawsuit in Terry v. Hill on behalf of mentally ill jail detainees not convicted of any crime who are not getting timely mental health evaluations and treatment

  • Successfully challenges state laws placing high burdens on ballot access for new political parties 

2003 – Scores a victory for voting rights, restoring voting rights of students, including Sarah Huckabee (Sanders), purged from the voter rolls for using a college address 

2003 – Wins a lawsuit against Lonoke County for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make its courthouse accessible to people with disabilities

Prevails in a challenge to school district’s disparate treatment of and outing gay student and forcing him to write Bible verses; secured an agreement that district to refrain from any such future activity 

2006 – The Arkansas Supreme Court upholds an earlier trial court decision overturning the ban on LGBTQ people fostering children

Successfully challenges new state law attempt at restricting ballot access for new political parties

2009 – Federal appeals court recognizes constitutional protections against shackling pregnant women during labor in a victory for ACLU client Shawanna Nelson

Secures right of Arkansas Society of Freethinkers to place Winter Solstice display on the lawn of the state capitol, alongside nativity scene placed by another group 

Prevails in a jury trial for inmate repeatedly raped by a guard 

6. 2010s


2010 – Successful in a challenge to Act 1, a discriminatory ballot measure that prevented LGBTQ couples from adopting children

2012 – Successfully defends Matthew Robinson, a 16-year-old, who was brutalized by police brutality when he was stopped while walking with his mother and their dog 

2013 – The ACLU of Arkansas challenges the state’s gay marriage ban as part of its long-running efforts to defend LGBTQ rights

Federal district court permanently blocks Arkansas law banning abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy 

2014 – Arkansas’ Voter ID law is struck down after the ACLU challenges the law for violating the state Constitution 

Represents Patricia Dawson in a lawsuit against H & H Electric for firing her after she transitioned from male to female 

2015 - Represents Planned Parenthood in a challenge to Governor’s termination of their Medicaid contract for services unrelated to abortion

2016 - Wins challenge to state law making it a crime to peacefully panhandle, including merely holding a sign

Challenges state law that makes it a crime to fail to pay rent to a landlord 

2017 – Files lawsuit challenging four laws that restrict access to abortion

Resolved case ensuring district court would not jail people for an inability to pay fees and fines 
2018 – Files successful challenges to anti-panhandling ordinances in Hot Springs and Rogers for unconstitutionally infringing on the right to freedom of speech
Prevails in free speech challenge to a second state law aimed at making it a crime to panhandle or ask for assistance
Challenges a state law requiring government contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel or reduce their fees by 20 percent
Challenges state law requiring installation of a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the state Capitol 

2019 – Challenges a state law that bans companies from using words like “burger” and “hotdog” to describe products not made from animals and clearly labeled “plant-based”

Sues and obtains an injunction against three new state laws to restrict and ban abortion access

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