As the Star Ledger points out, on Wednesday, NJ ACLU marks its 50th anniversary. Over the years this group has played an instrumental role in shaping our laws and our lives. I can speak personally as to how their guidance and activities helped several organizations – and as a result many people.
In a pioneering effort in the late 1980’s NJ ACLU assisted the Gay Activist Alliance of NJ and the NJ LGBT Coalition in their efforts to add LGBT’s to the NJ Law Against Discrimination. This involved legislative effort and started with a demonstration in Ridgewood against then Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Walter Kern who opposed the bill. Later Kern for other reasons left the senate but the law was amended. The ACLU Executive Director then undertook the volunteer task of providing sensitivity training to NJ State troopers.
Soon afterward NJ ACT UP was helped on many occasions by the ACLU. ACT UP’s first demonstration was scheduled for Paterson. There its Mayor and then Chair of the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, Frank Graves (author of numerous brutally tough drug laws) refused a permit. A call to him from the ACLU explaining our constitution and that part about the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” resulted in the permit. Later in East Rutherford where ambulance drivers had refused to pick up up a person with HIV, the ACLU helped in obtaining a consent decree against the town issued by the NJ Division on Civil Rights. After these early efforts the ACLU continued leadership in HIV/AIDS issues.
Throughout the 2000’s NJ ACLU has continued as an active participant in defending and promoting our rights on many fronts, including within the HIV, LGBT, and corrections communities. You can read more about their current activities at their website. Their efforts and achievements have far exceeded what I can describe. Today the NJ ACLU lawyers, staff and volunteers, energetically continue the important tradition of safeguarding and strengthening our civil liberties. May they do so for at least another 50 years.