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In the twenty-first century, the ACLU has fought the teaching of creationism in public schools and challenged some provisions of anti-terrorism legislation as infringing on privacy and civil liberties.Fundraising and membership spiked after the 2016 election; the ACLU's current membership is more than 1.2 million.
Many of the ACLU's cases involved the defense of Communist party members and Jehovah's Witnesses.In particular, the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 leaves the government liable in some civil rights cases.Fee awards under this civil rights statute are considered "equitable relief" rather than damages, and government entities are not immune from equitable relief.The board of directors consists of 80 persons, including representatives from each state affiliate, as well as at-large delegates.The organization has its headquarters in 125 Broad Street, a 40-story skyscraper located in Lower Manhattan, New York City.The ACLU was founded in 1920 by Helen Keller, Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Walter Nelles, Morris Ernst, Albert De Silver, Arthur Garfield Hays, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and its focus was on freedom of speech, primarily for anti-war protesters.
During the 1920s, the ACLU expanded its scope to include protecting the free speech rights of artists and striking workers, and working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to decrease racism and discrimination.
At its discretion, the national organization provides subsidies to smaller affiliates that lack sufficient resources to be self-sustaining; for example, the Wyoming ACLU chapter received such subsidies until April 2015, when, as part of a round of layoffs at the national ACLU, the Wyoming office was closed.
In October 2004, the ACLU rejected $1.5 million from both the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation because the Foundations had adopted language from the USA PATRIOT Act in their donation agreements, including a clause stipulating that none of the money would go to "underwriting terrorism or other unacceptable activities." The ACLU views this clause, both in Federal law and in the donors' agreements, as a threat to civil liberties, saying it is overly broad and ambiguous.
In 1940, the ACLU leadership voted to exclude Communists from its leadership positions, a decision rescinded in 1968.
During World War II, the ACLU defended Japanese-American citizens, unsuccessfully trying to prevent their forcible relocation to internment camps.
The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk.