ACLU is needed now because freedom cannot defend itself | Guest Column


I proudly joined with the San Juan Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in the Fourth of July Parade. My annual participation in the celebration of Independence Day with the ACLU, an organization dedicated to the protection and defense of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in a small way demonstrates my patriotism.

A minor incident occurred, but one important enough for me question the intent. As the ACLU contingent passed one of the reviewing stands, the host did not read the ACLU identifying statement provided, but instead announced, "The ACLU, you may not need them now, but you may need them in the future." I hope that I misinterpreted the remark, but if not, I submit that the gentleman enjoys his free speech right to express his opinion, in part, because of the vigilance and dedication of the ACLU.

The Bill of Rights guarantees our freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, our right to petition the government, to keep and bear arms, protects us from unreasonable arrests, searches and seizures, excessive bail, double jeopardy, coerced confessions, cruel and unusual punishment; and secures our rights to probable cause, due process, counsel, jury trials and defense witnesses.

I invite anyone who questions the current importance of the ACLU to visit the ACLU Web site at aclu.org. The ACLU has worked since 1920 in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Summarized below are but a few examples of the recent diverse activities of the ACLU.

— The ACLU demanded this month that officials at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Virginia stop their illegal practice of censoring biblical and other religious materials sent to detainees.

— The Supreme Court this summer ruled in favor of the ACLU suit that middle school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl when they strip searched her based on a classmate's accusation that she possessed ibuprofen.

— The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation in May filed a lawsuit that patents on two human genes associated with higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer are unconstitutional. A gene patent holder may prevent anyone from studying, testing or looking at a gene. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted thousands of patents on human genes, estimated to be about 20 percent of the known human genes.

— The ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act suits since 2003 to obtain records concerning the abuse of prisoners held by the United States in prisons overseas. The suits have yielded more than 100,000 pages of government records, including memos in which Justice Department lawyers supplied a legal basis for torture.

The 2001 USA Patriot Act expanded the FBI's authority to issue “national security letters” that require businesses, including banks, libraries, hospitals, and Internet services, to disclose private information about their customers. Those given national security letters may not disclose the fact. The ACLU successfully challenged the constitutionality of the statute that permits these “gag orders. A government appeal is pending.

Since at least 2001, the U.S. has engaged in extraordinary rendition, the transportation of foreign nationals to secret prisons in foreign countries where they can be held and interrogated without charge or trial. The ACLU represents five men who were kidnapped by the CIA and transported to prisons overseas and interrogated under torture. The suit seeks accountability from the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan for providing services to the CIA.

The ACLU is needed now because “Freedom Cannot Defend Itself.”

— Roger deRoos is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Missouri. He is a trustee of the San Juan Preservation Trust. He is a resident of San Juan Island.

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