Under my hat: A local presence of the ACLU
Nadia Hassani of Andreas, an ACLU volunteer, greets visitors at the Orwigsburg Heritage Festival recently. She is one of a group of 70 local residents interested in establishing an ACLU chapter in Schuylkill County. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
It was easy to miss. But I’m glad I saw it.
I strolled along the food vendors and specialty stands of the Orwigsburg Heritage Festival on Saturday and my eyes were drawn to one specific table, prominently labeled ACLU.
In all of the years I’ve been taking my 1880s highwheel bicycle to heritage events, this was the first time I’d seen a presence by the American Civil Liberties Union.
I was even more surprised when I walked up to the stand.
“I’m Nadia Hassani,” said the woman, welcoming me warmly. She saw my nametag and noticed we live in the same general area.
“I’m from Andreas,” she said. We spoke about life in our area, a region Nadia appreciates. “I’m an immigrant.”
Nadia speaks eloquent English with an intriguing accent. She told me of her German and Tunisian roots.
She is one of up to perhaps 70 locals hoping to organize a Schuylkill County Chapter of the ACLU.
It’s not a new organization. In fact, the ACLU has been around for nearly 100 years.
They’re guardians of liberty. They work in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve individual rights. These are the same rights granted by the Constitution yet so often denied citizens, especially minorities.
The ACLU protects and defends. It’s said the ACLU appears before the U.S. Supreme Court second only to the Justice Department. They make it their mission to take on the toughest civil liberty cases.
In other words, they stand ready to protect you from government abuse and overreach.
“It’s more important now than ever,” said Nadia. I agreed.
Although we don’t yet have a local chapter, the ACLU is a familiar resource in our area.
I remember how they stood ready to defend a Tamaqua Area High School student, a class officer, nearly a decade ago. The young man felt he was being forced by the school district to take part in a religious baccalaureate service against his wishes and personal beliefs.
Fortunately, the district reversed its stance and explained the issue as a misunderstanding and typographical error.
Interestingly, something similar happened this year at Pottsville High School. The school district removed prayer from its graduation ceremony after being advised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that performing a divisive religious ritual at a public school graduation would violate a Supreme Court ruling. (By the way, prayer is still OK in schools, but it cannot be school-sanctioned nor led by teachers.)
While no involvement by the ACLU became necessary in Pottsville, the organization undoubtedly would have jumped in if asked to do so.
The underlying reason is separation of church and state, something the ACLU takes seriously. And so should everyone. Civil rights are important.
Whether defending a woman’s reproductive decisions or pushing for equality, the ACLU is at the fore. They make sure it is you, not the government, or quasi-government agency, who makes the most personal decisions about your life.
It was founded to ensure the promise of the Bill of Rights and to expand its reach to people historically denied protections.
This can apply to anybody.
ACLU founder Roger Baldwin put it this way: “So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.”
The ACLU is nonpartisan. They defend your liberties regardless of how you vote.
Nadia already has been welcomed at the Early Childhood Fair held by IU29 at Fairlane Mall in April, and the Bear Creek Festival organized by the Schuylkill Conservation District in June.
That’s why I was surprised to learn she was denied an opportunity to set up an information booth at the Shenandoah Heritage Festival.
“They said it was too political,” she explained.
Protecting your constitutional rights is viewed as political?
It’s hard to believe that anybody sees it that way.
But if so, it only emphasizes the importance of Nadia’s work.