Lecture from ACLU director inspires, teaches high school students

Elise Keller
Contributing Writer

American Civil Liberties Union director Jeff Mittman speaks to a group of high school students from all over St. Louis at Civitas on Saturday, Feb. 18. Photo from http://www.civitas-stl.com

Jeff Mittman, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) executive director, spoke at Civitas on Saturday, Feb. 18. The lecture was open to middle school and high school students from all over the St. Louis area, and the group discussed topics about how the ACLU interacts with politics.

“I think the lecture was great because it was very informative. It took all the crazy things that are going on right now in politics, local and national, and made them easier to connect with. The issues we talked about were easier to understand without being dumbed down,” Serena Lewis, Crossroads freshman said about her experience at the lecture.

Mittman has been the executive director of ACLU-MO since May of 2013, and he earned his undergrad at Yale University and doctorate at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.

Mittman discussed with the group of students topics like President Donald Trump’s threats to the press and how this could violate Constitutional rights. He spoke of how the ACLU is involved and has been involved in many cases since the inauguration. He also spoke his personal opinions (which Mittman assumed the majority of the audience agreed with) on topics like “bathroom bills,” voting rights, and press rights, and how all of these may change under the new administration.

“The other kids there were very knowledgeable. They knew what they were talking about and that itself called me to action. The other kids there know so much about current events and are so involved that their actions are an inspiration to me to do the same,” Lewis said.

Mittman told a story about how the ACLU had a minor victory during the recent Lambert Airport protest against Trump’s ban on travel. The airport told protesters if more than 50 people were protesting, the airport patrol would arrest them.

That night some ACLU lawyers went up to Lambert, took pictures showing there was plenty of room for far over 50 protesters and wrote up a lawsuit. Other lawyers stayed up all night writing how arresting protesters would violate the people’s right to freedom of speech as stated in the first amendment. The ACLU contacted the airport and persisted until Lambert airport allowed 600 people to protest, and the following morning around that many people showed up to peacefully protest.

The ACLU not only protects protesters’ rights, but also disability rights, human rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights national security and privacy, racial justice, juvenile justice, religious liberty, capital punishment, and more, according to the ACLU website.

Mittman said the ACLU even defended the rights of the Nazi party. The ACLU files numerous lawsuits on the behalf of other organizations. Nationally, the ACLU files cases protecting American’s rights near daily.

In addition to using law to protect citizens’ rights, the ACLU also informs people of their rights. Recently, with the strengthening Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigrants are unaware of their rights and believe the police have the ability to come into their homes and arrest them, as this was how their old country worked. The ACLU website has instructions immigrants can follow to protect themselves from the ICE or immigration agents. At the lecture, there were pamphlets with these instructions, in addition to pamphlets explaining people’s rights to protest, rights to speech, what to do when a police officer stops someone without cause or treats that person unfairly and more. The pamphlets were also provided in Spanish.

Mittman also talked about how citizens can become members of the ACLU, and what the group of students in attendance could do to protect their rights and others’ rights as young adults.

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