The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) is our nation’s guardian of liberty working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. In Hawaii since 1965.
The ACLU works to ensure that the government does not violate fundamental constitutional rights including, but not limited to, freedom of speech, association and assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, fair and equal treatment, and privacy. If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everyone’s rights are imperiled.
The ACLU of Hawaii network of volunteers and staff deliver services statewide at no cost to the public. We are a private non-profit, non-partisan and do not accept government funds. Our advocacy is made possible primarily through individual donations.
The ACLU & the ACLU of Hawai‘i
“ACLU” stands for the American Civil Liberties Union. Our mission is to uphold and defend the civil liberties granted in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and the extension of those rights granted in the Hawai‘i State Constitution. The ACLU of Hawai‘i has served throughout the Hawaiian Islands since 1965.
The ACLU of Hawai‘i is a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization. As a watchdog group, and to maintain complete independence from the government, the ACLU does not seek or accept government funding. The ACLU of Hawai‘i shares a common national agenda with ACLU affiliates and chapters across the country. The national ACLU which binds these affiliates is headquartered in New York City and has a nationwide membership of more than 500,000 people. The ACLU of Hawai‘i sets its own local agenda in response to local community issues. The national ACLU website is http://www.aclu.org. To join, or to renew your membership in the American Civil Liberties Union, click here.
ACLU of Hawaii’s (.pdf format)
The Bill of Rights is the document that makes America unique. It guarantees our individual freedoms. However, these freedoms should never be taken for granted, and we must always be vigilant that these freedoms are not taken away or eroded.
Minorities and people with unpopular opinions are often the first to have their rights violated, since they have less influence than the “mainstream.” However, our society is not truly free unless all people have the same rights. This principle sometimes generates controversy for the ACLU, but it is important to understand that it is the rights of everyone which we are defending and not necessarily the views or actions of any particular individual or group.
How Do We Defend People’s Rights?
The ACLU of Hawai‘i protects the rights of the people in three ways:
- Our legislative program lobbies government bodies such as the state legislature and county councils to prevent passage of laws which would encroach on people’s freedoms.
- Our legal program advocates for people whose rights have been violated, filing suit in the courts if necessary. The vast majority of the cases we take on are resolved without ever going to court. In all cases, ACLU legal services are provided at no cost to the plaintiffs.
- Our public education program seeks to inform and engage the public about their constitutional rights and the facts surrounding current civil liberties issues in order to curb government violations.
A Brief History of the ACLU of Hawai‘i
Although the national ACLU was founded in 1920, it wasn’t until 1949 that there was an attempt to form a local affiliate in Hawai‘i.
During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the most prominent civil liberties issue was the fear of communism. At this time, the rights of communists and people accused of being communists were being severely restricted. While there was a strong need to defend these people’s rights, the widespread fear of these individuals made it very difficult to do so. For this reason, the early history of the ACLU of Hawai‘i is marked by a number of failed attempts to establish a lasting organization.
The 1949 attempt failed, but in the early 1950’s, the Hawaii Civil Liberties Committee was organized by Steve Murin. Its goal was to defend John and Aiko Reinecke, who were fired from their public school teaching jobs because of alleged communists leanings. The Committee was active for a few years but was never recognized by the national ACLU.
In 1953, about sixty people gathered, wrote by-laws, and elected a board of directors to form an official ACLU affiliate. Communism was still an issue, so the organization worked hard to prove its non-partisan nature. Allan Saunders, considered the founder of the present ACLU of Hawai‘i, spoke for the group, noting that the national ACLU had defended Fascists, Protestants, and Catholics as well as Communists. “Unless people in the community are willing to defend the civil liberties of others,” Allan said, “they will be lost to everyone eventually.” Unfortunately, this organization also dissolved due to lack of infrastructure.
Finally, in 1965, many supporters of the previous attempts met to form the current local affiliate. It was better organized than any in the past and in September of that year, was recognized by the national organization.
In 1972, the ACLU of Hawai‘i hired its first full-time employee and has grown steadily since. Today we maintain six staff members, who along with board members and volunteers carry out the mission of the ACLU.
“ACLU of Hawai‘i” and “ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation” – an important distinction.
The ACLU of Hawaii’s work to protect fundamental freedoms is based on a three-pronged approach: lobbying, litigation and public education.
In order to support all three advocacy tools and to comply with federal law, it is necessary to have two organizational entities: the ACLU of Hawai‘i and the ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation. Fully funding both is vital to protecting civil liberties in throughout the Hawaiian Islands and across the country.
The ACLU of Hawai‘i is a 501(c)(4) corporation, therefore gifts to it are not tax-deductible. It is the membership organization, and you have to be a member to get your ACLU card. ACLU of Hawai‘i monies fund our legislative lobbying – important work that cannot be supported by tax-deductible funds. Thus, your membership dues support our lobbying efforts in both Washington, DC and in Hawai‘i.
The ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Foundation gifts support litigation and public education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation are fully tax-deductible to the donor.
Many donors choose to make tax-deductible gifts to the ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation and also make gifts to the ACLU of Hawai‘i in order to maintain their “card-carrying” membership status and to support our important legislative lobbying efforts.
Read more about the distinction between the ACLU and the ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation here.