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May 10, 1985 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-05-10

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Friday, May 10, 1985



Bob McKeown

Howard Simon and the
Michigan ACLU push the
fight for civil rights
through the conservative,
self-centered 1980s.


Staff Writer

here must be days when
Howard Simon stares out
the windows of his 17th floor.
David Whitney Building
office feeling like the
straight man in an old slapstick com-
edy routine. Sometimes — when the
agency you front has been tagged with
a "kick me" label by ultra-
conservative, Bible-toting politicians,
middle-of-the-road newspaper colum-
nists and even a former colleague who
once stood on the same side of the
libertarian fence — coming in to work
each day can be an experience akin to
playing Abbott to the rest of the
world's Costello.
But Simon wants it known that
despite the current whipping-boy im-
age, the American Civil Liberties
Union doesn't intend to shift its fight
for individual and minority rights into
a lower gear. In fact, the executive di-
rector of the Michigan ACLU gnd his
staff have hit overdrive in their battle
to further civil rights causes in the
self-centered 1980s.
While the latter half of the 20th
Century has seen advances in many
areas, including civil rights, Simon
dispels the notion that the world has
entered a period of social enlighten-
ment. We live in an era where society
is polarized in many respects. We're
divided more sharply than ever before
along racial, ethnic, religious and
class lines.
"The fundamental freedoms that
we have, that exist on paper, are under
tremendous pressure in light of the
mounting domestic and international
tensions we find ourselves facing," the
ACLU director says, driving home his
point on the need for an organization
that monitors rights abuses in con-
temporary America.
And if the ACLU always seems to
be embroiled in controversy, that's
probably because the issues it chooses
to take a stand on are so emotionally
charged and highly controversial.
Sixty-five years ago, when the late
Roger Baldwin founded the ACLU,
its cache of clients_ consisted
primarily of World War I conscien-
tious objectors. Today, the organiza-
tion can be found backing a range of
defendants that runs the gamut from
Communists to neo-Nazis — anyone
who feels his or her rights under the
United States Constitution have been
The ACLU doesn't actually repre-
sent criminal defendants in court.

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