Freedom of Religion
The right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s framers understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government leaves religion alone.
The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one’s religion free of government interference. That includes government both using its power to advance particular religious beliefs or practices, as well as using its power to put unconstitutional limitations on the free exercise of religion.
The ACLU of Alabama works to ensure that religious liberty is protected by keeping government policies from advancing specific religious beliefs and by keeping the government out of the business of religion.
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech, the press, association, assembly, and petition: This set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. It is the foundation of a vibrant democracy, and without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither away.
The fight for freedom of speech has been a bedrock of the ACLU’s mission since the organization was founded in 1920, driven by the need to protect the constitutional rights of conscientious objectors and anti-war protesters. The organization’s work quickly spread to combating censorship, securing the right to assembly, and promoting free speech in schools.
Almost a century later, these battles have taken on new forms, but they persist. The ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project continues to champion freedom of expression in its myriad forms — whether through protest, media, online speech, or the arts — in the face of new threats. For example, new avenues for censorship have arisen alongside the wealth of opportunities for speech afforded by the Internet. The threat of mass government surveillance chills the free expression of ordinary citizens, legislators routinely attempt to place new restrictions on online activity, and journalism is criminalized in the name of national security. The ACLU is always on guard to ensure that the First Amendment’s protections remain robust — in times of war or peace, for bloggers or the institutional press, online or off.
Over the years, the ACLU has frequently represented or defended individuals engaged in some truly offensive speech. We have defended the speech rights of communists, Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, accused terrorists, pornographers, anti-LGBT activists, and flag burners. That’s because the defense of freedom of speech is most necessary when the message is one most people find repulsive. Constitutional rights must apply to even the most unpopular groups if they’re going to be preserved for everyone.