The National ACLU was founded in 1920 - at a time when freedom of expression and the right to equal protection of the laws, despite their presence in the Constitution, had yet to be recognized by American Courts.
Those opposed to U.S. involvement in the First World War were jailed for the mere expression of their views. Labor unions were denied the right to organize. Jim Crow was the law of the land and state-sanctioned violence against African Americans was routine. Gender discrimination was firmly institutionalized. Constitutional rights for people with disabilities, lesbians and gay men, the poor, and many other groups were literally unthinkable.
The ACLU, as the first public interest law firm of its kind, set to work breathing life into the Bill of Rights. Since then, it has grown into a national organization with unsurpassed expertise in defending civil liberties, both in and out of the courtroom. Many of the fundamental rights that Americans take for granted today were the direct result of litigation and advocacy on the part of the ACLU.
In 1955, the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU was founded by a group of dedicated women and men who saw an alarming crisis in our nation and state. McCarthyism, anti-Communist hysteria and opposition to the growing civil rights movement posed new and serious threats to the constitutional rights of Kentuckians. The first cases brought by the KCLU (as it was then known) defended the free speech rights of civil rights activists and anti-war protestors.
Since its founding the ACLU of Kentucky has been, and continues to be:
- A prime mover in all Kentucky's school desegregation efforts and an outspoken proponent of affirmative action;
- Kentucky's only constant advocate for the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy;
- A strong supporter of equal rights for all Kentuckians regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or disability;
- The primary legal resource for Kentucky's abortion rights movement;
- A staunch defender of the rights of individuals caught up in Kentucky's criminal justice system;
- A steadfast advocate for abolition of the state's death penalty;
- A supporter of equal marriage rights for Kentucky's same-gender couples;
- A partner with Kentucky's labor community in defending civil liberties in the work place.