Students bring American Civil Liberties Union to College

The creation of a new chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently established at the College has insipired mixed reactions.

The ACLU is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works daily in courts and handles nearly 6,000 court cases annually from offices in almost every state. They work in developing legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties protected in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

“When I first came to the College, I was so surprised that an ACLU chapter had not been established yet,” Khushbu Patel, sophomore criminology and justice studies major and founder of the College’s chapter said. “After complaining about it over and over to my friends, they said ‘Why don’t you just start one?'”

Not all are happy to see the group on campus though. The ACLU has long received national criticism, so it is not surprising that some students at the College would not support the club.

Nationally, the ACLU has been referred to as the Anti-Christian Liberties Union due to its strong ideals on the separation of church and state and has been criticized for things such as opposition to Internet filtering systems on library computers to protect children from exposure to pornography and the filing of lawsuits to remove Christian crosses and the Ten Commandments from public schools.

However, Khushbu does not agree.

“I feel this is an important organization to have on campus because one of the objectives of the ACLU is educating people of what their rights are under the U.S. Constitution and how people, including students, can protect their rights,” she said. “We want to spark discussion and make the campus more politically active.”

“Simply, the ACLU is a legal group looking to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights from intrusion by the government, especially in regard to First Amendment violations” Dave Weinstein, sophomore Spanish major and treasurer of the College’s chapter of ACLU, said.

According to an article published in U.S. National on Jan. 31 entitled “First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say,” when students were told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees.

“There is a lot of ignorance in this country about the real meaning of our rights and freedoms,” Morton Emanuel Winston, professor of philosophy and member of the ACLU, said. He believes something needs to be done about it and thinks the ACLU is taking steps in that direction.

The ACLU has a history of defending the rights of individual Americans. Sometimes, those whom they defend express unpopular views. However, “it is the purpose of the Bill of Rights to protect such views,” Marianna P. Sullivan, professor of political science and international studies, said. “Thus, ACLU fulfills a vital function in our democracy. As the student body at the College becomes more politically aware and more interested in political action, an ACLU chapter on campus would provide an important opportunity for involvement.”

Still, some students have a hard time accepting the group, knowing that their student activities fee is going to support a group which supports the speech of any organization, even those such as the KKK.

“It does not surprise me that there should be both strong opposition as well as strong support for an ACLU chapter by TCNJ students,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said. “Healthy, civil disagreement on such issues should be the centerpiece of the kind of education offered at an institution like TCNJ.”

Vice president of Student Life, Mary-Elaine Perry, agrees with Gitenstein. She believes that it is beneficial for the College to have a wide range of organizations supporting different causes because that is what makes being here a great learning experience.

The College’s chapter of the ACLU currently has about 25 people on its roster who are interested in becoming active with the club. And Khusbu said he believes that the club can pull more members in once “they get their message out there.”

But some students are concerned that when the ACLU does get its message out there, it won’t put their whole message out. People against the ACLU believe that the organization only tells one side of the story and leaves out things like their support of hate speech.

The ACLU is holding a forum on the USA Patriot Act on Feb. 23. The forum is going to have a panel of speakers who will discuss different aspects of the Patriot Act and how the ACLU believes it is hurting the country more than helping it.

“Being involved with ACLU is important to me because I was always taught that if you see an injustice occurring you have to take action and do something about it,” Khushbu said. “And it would be smarter and more effective to do something about it as an organization.”