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May 10, 1985 - Image 15

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

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Rather, the agency writes legal briefs
in cases which it feels raise key legal
questions regarding freedom of
speech, religion or the press; immigra-
tion; prisoners' rights; separation of
church and state; and other issues
dealt with in the Bill of Rights.
The principles that the civil rights
group strives to uphold haven't
changed in its six-and-a-half-decade
existence. But the issues that the
ACLU chooses to illustrate those prin-
ciples are different even than those of
ten years ago, according to Simon. In
Michigan, for example, the ACLU
fought hard against the legislature's
decision to eliminate state funding for
abortions for low-income women. The
bill_ was eventually vetoed by Gov.
James Blanchard.
The ACLU's stand against the use
of metal detectors and student
searches in Detroit's public schools is
another recent battleground — one
that hasn't been overly-popular with
school administrators and parents
concerned with curbing the rising tide
of violence in the city's classrooms.
"The whole community, including
the ACLU, is in favor of removing
weapons from kids in school," Simon
says of what he claims are the "mis-
conceptions" regarding his organiza-
tion's position. "Who doesn't want to
restore an environment where learn-
ing can take place?
"Where we disagree with the De-
troit schools is on their insistence that
every student be searched. We feel,
and in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court
backs us up, that only those students
suspected (of carrying a concealed
weapon) by teachers should be sub-
jected to searches."
Simon cited the Supreme Court's
decision last year that teachers in a
New Jersey school needed "reasonable
suspicion" in order to search a student.
While more lenient than the "probable
cause" needed by a police officer in the
same situation, the ruling clearly out-
laws blanket searches of an entire stu-
dent body, the ACLU director says.
"I don't think of us as working in
opposition to law enforcement on this
issue. I just think that we could find a
solution to the problem that is equally
effective and more consistent with the
To the casual observer, the ACLU
appears to support an element of
society which seemingly finds it neces-
sary to live outside the rules — gun-
crazed high school students, pornog-

raphy peddlers and the like. With that
in mind, it's easy to see why the civil
rights agency picks up flak from all
A better understanding of the
ACLU and its goals comes from an in-
depth look at some of the more complex
issues the Michigan branch deals
with, such as affirmative action or the
church-state debate.
The problem with affirmative ac-
tion, Simon insists, is that most people
still view it in terms of a black-
versus-white issue (i.e. good for blacks,
bad for white people). "The issue is so
tragically oversimplified. There are
numerous cases where it isn't needed,
where it is already being done by an
employer. The ACLU doesn't favor
forcing affirmative action programs
into play, by law, where no such intru-
sion is necessary.
"But the fact of the matter is,
there are situations where it is not
only justifiable, but direly needed —
cases where employers have been
found guilty of racial discrimination in
the past. Affirmative action programs
can be implemented with beneficial
social consequences that don't smack
of reverse discrimination."
The ACLU, according to Simon,
while backing individually-tailored
affirmative action programs in specific
cases to achieve integration in the
work force, does not endorse the idea of
racial quotas in either the public or the
private sector.
While finding a Constitutionally
proper way to keep guns and knives
out of inner city schools has been a
recent hot topic, the battle to keep
religion out of the public school has
been a cause celebre on the ACLU
agenda in Michigan and throughout
the country for the past several years.
Simon and his small staff (five paid
employees and several volunteers
cover the entire state) have filed briefs
in a number of "separation" cases.
These include the on-going court
battle by the Grand Rapids School Dis-
trict to institute a "shared time" pro-
gram with the city's parochial schools
and the attempts of several smaller,
out-state districts to implement a mo-
ment of silence for students or allow
religious clubs to meet on school prop-
erty during school hours.
Simon calls the push to move
prayer into the public-school arena "a
kind of fundamentalist social science"
that is based on ignorance of the Con-
stitution and a general naivete.

"God was never expelled from the
classroom," he says. "One does not
need a law in order to pray. A child
doesn't need the teacher's guidance or
supervision in this instance.
"People have a fundamental reli-
gious liberty in this country, set forth
in the Constitution, to pray whenever
and wherever they want . . . and to
whatever God they choose."
Proponents of mandatory school
prayer, according to Simon, are con-
fusing the concepts of religion and
morality. "Ethical standards and mor-
ality should be taught in the public
schools," he agrees. "But the concept of
morality does not mean religious mor-
ality. We're talking about secular
morality — fair play, equality, respect
for the individual — that sort of
For the same basic reasons, says
Simon, the ACLU is opposed to the
teaching of "creationism" as an alter-
native theory to evolution in public
school science classes and the display
of Nativity scenes on government
property during the Christmas season.
Other recent efforts by the Michi-
gan ACLU include backing two
student-run film clubs at Michigan
State University in their fight to show
X-rated movies on campus; working to
ban the use by employers of polygraph
examinations for job candidates; and
finding an acceptable solution to the
problems posed by last month's pro-
posed neo-Nazi rally in Detroit.
What's keeping Simon and his
co-workers so busy these days; at least
the way the 41-year-old civil rights ac-
tivist tells it, is the threat to Constitu-
tional freedoms posed by the current
Administration in Washington. Talk
to Simon for five minutes and it's easy
to see who he didn't vote for in either of
the last two Presidential elections.
"Never in the history of this coun-
try," the ACLU director says, "have so
many .of the fundamental rights of
people come under threat from one
Administration at one time. The
(Ronald) Reagan domestic and civil
liberties programs are aimed at re-
versing everything that has taken
place in the name of progress in the
United States during the last two or
three decades."
While Simon does not feel that the
President is personally insensitive to
civil rights injustices, he does think
that the tone that is set from the top
often legitimizes what occurs at the

Continued on next page

Friday, May 10, 1985


The battle to keep
religion out of the
public school has
been a cause celebre
on the ACLU agenda
for several years.

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