Reflections from Former ACLU of Indiana Executive Directors

"When I Carried the Torch"

Fourteen dedicated civil libertarians have held the position of executive director at the ACLU of Indiana since John Preston Ward served on a part-time basis as the first executive director in 1957. Records at the Indiana State Library indicate that the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) did not have an executive director or staff from 1960 to 1966. The ICLU's operations were run by volunteers, including its President, Dr. Robert L. Risk, a dentist from Indianapolis. Prior to 1957 and the appointment of Ward, Merle H. Miller and Barton Hunter served as Chairmen.

John Preston Ward webJohn Preston Ward

ACLU of Indiana Executive Directors

Jane Henegar, 2012 – present
Frank Young (Interim) 2012
Gilbert Holmes, 2008 – 2012
Claudia Peña Porretti, 2006
Fran Quigley 2004 – 2006
John Krull 1998 – 2004
Sheila Suess Kennedy 1992 – 1998
Michael Lee Gradison, 1982 – 1992
Joyce M. Martello, 1981
Barbara Williamson, 1973 – 1979
A. Reid McFarlane 1971 – 1973
Craig Eldon Pinkus, 1969 – 1971
Caron Goldstein, 1966 – 1969
John Preston Ward, 1957 – 1960

Barbara Williamson, Executive Director, 1973 to 1979

I worked and volunteered in the ICLU office during the 1970s, serving as executive director until mid-1979. I remember one instance that is eerily reminiscent of today's controversy about the state approving which organizations can issue license plates for use as fundraisers. The Indiana State Fair refused to allow the ICLU to rent a booth because we were "too controversial." A state court injunction got us there anyway, right next to the Indiana Republican Party.

Barbara Williamson, Executive Director, 1973 to 1979        Barbara Williamson

It's worth taking a closer look at another issue that arose then. At that time, an Indiana Textbook Commission provided lists of texts approved for use alone or with other materials. When an overtly creationist textbook was being considered for biology classes in Indiana high schools, ICLU volunteers testified before the commission in opposition, on grounds that its sole use represented the establishment of a particular religious view and that students would not be informed of the nature of the science they were to be studying.

Unsuccessful there, we provided testimony before the Indiana State Legislature and finally filed suit in state court. The last step, in particular, generated considerable controversy, both within the ICLU and the national ACLU, which opposed the move as appearing to be censorship of a book. However, the litigation was successful, both in the lower courts and on appeal, and the sole use of the text was prohibited.

As an aside, I must add that my favorite souvenir of those years was a T-shirt I picked up at the ACLU National Biennial Leadership Conference in Philadelphia. It was bright red emblazoned in white with the name of the Mississippi Civil Liberties Union.

Michael Gradison webMichael Gradison

Michael Lee Gradison, Executive Director, 1982-1992

Michael Lee Gradison served as the executive director of the ACLU of Indiana (then called the Indiana Civil Liberties Union) from 1982 to 1992, a time of historic challenges and achievement in the defense of civil liberties in Indiana, and was a member of the Board of Directors beginning in 1967. Thirty years after he assumed the role of executive director, Gradison sat down for an interview with Fran Quigley, himself a former executive director and board member of ACLU of Indiana. Click here to read Fran Quigley's interview with Michael Lee Gradison  

Sheila Suess Kennedy, Executive Director, 1992-1998

Sheila Suess Kennedy webSheila Suess Kennedy

If I had to identify one lesson I learned during my six years as Executive Director, it would be the importance of constitutional literacy to what we might call the American Experiment. Ever since, I've been more or less obsessed by what Americans—ordinary citizens and elected officials alike—don't know about our nation's history, founding documents and legal system, and about the consequences of that civic ignorance.

While I was director, we did a little experiment. We sent a volunteer to a local mall with a clipboard containing a reproduction of the Bill of Rights. The volunteer asked passersby if they would sign this "petition to the government." We wanted to see how many would recognize one of the nation's most important founding documents. Out of 33 people, only one did.

Things have not improved in the intervening years. There is ample research confirming the existence of what I've come to call a "civic deficit"—an appalling lack of basic constitutional knowledge. This deficit might not be as troubling in a more homogeneous nation, but in a country where, increasingly, people read different books and newspapers, visit different blogs, watch different television programs, attend different churches and even speak different languages—where the information and beliefs we all share are diminishing and our variety and diversity are growing—it is more important than ever that Americans understand their history and their governing philosophy, because our constitutional values are a covenant; they are ultimately all that Americans have in common.

Governments are human enterprises, and like all human enterprises, they have their ups and downs. In the United States, however, the consequences of the "down" periods are potentially more serious than in more homogeneous nations, precisely because this is a country based upon covenant, upon what I have elsewhere called the American Idea. Americans do not share a single ethnicity, religion or race. Culture warriors to the contrary, we never have. We don't share a comprehensive worldview. What we do share is a set of values, and when we don't know what those values are or where they came from, we lose a critical part of what it is that makes us Americans.

At the end of the day, our public policies must be aligned with and supportive of our most fundamental values; the people we elect must demonstrate that they understand, respect and live up to those values; and the electorate has to be sufficiently knowledgeable about those values to hold public officials accountable.

In a country that celebrates individual rights and respects individual liberty, there will always be dissent, differences of opinion, and struggles for power. But there are different kinds of discord, and they aren't all equal. When we argue from within the constitutional culture—when we argue about the proper application of the American Idea to new situations or to previously marginalized populations—we strengthen our bonds and learn how to bridge our differences. When our divisions and debates pit powerful forces trying to rewrite our history and most basic rules against citizens who lack the wherewithal to enforce those rules, we undermine the American Idea and erode social trust. If there was one lesson I learned during my years with the ACLU, it was that misconceptions about the organization were a reflection of widespread ignorance of our constitutional system.

John Krull, Executive Director, 1998 to 2004

John KrullJohn Krull

That Tuesday, I dropped my children at day care just before 8 a.m.

The kids were small then and they liked to chatter during the drive, so we didn't have the radio on. Once I got back in the car, I made calls on my way to the ACLU of Indiana's offices.

When I got in, Ken Falk, our superb legal director, stuck his head into my office and asked if I'd heard that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers. I said "no," and asked if the pilot had had a heart attack. Ken shrugged his shoulders and walked back to his office.

Moments later, he was back in my office saying that a second plane had flown into the other tower. For a moment, we just looked at each other, stunned.

It's a cliché to say certain events divide history into "before" and "after," but Sept. 11, 2001, did.

Before that Tuesday, we saw movement on many things – on abolishing the death penalty, on creating a school curriculum that would teach constitutional principles, etc. After that Tuesday, we focused on defending constitutional principles under attack.

We worked to fend off attempts to do extralegal searches, to suppress dissent, to deny people their day in court.

Most workplaces shut down that day. At the ACLU of Indiana, the work just accelerated.

When I put my children to bed that night, they went to sleep in a different America. We've been living in the "after" ever since.

Fran Quigley, Executive Director, 2004 to 2006

Every day I was associated with the ACLU of Indiana, I was proud to be a part of the team.Fran Quigley cropped webFran Quigley

But I was never more proud than the days when our team, led by Ken Falk and sometimes accompanied by law students or lawyers with the ACLU Prison Project, worked on behalf of the severely mentally ill persons who were quite literally being tortured by conditions in the Indiana Department of Correction.

Readers of The Torch likely recall some of the horrid details: the isolation, the punishments, the shoddy healthcare, and the suicide attempts—some successful—that were the predictable result of that mistreatment.

These poor souls were absolutely indigent, unable to express themselves, scorned by society and usually by their own families, which made them perfect clients for the ACLU of Indiana. In response to clients no one else would serve, our organization provided them with the most compassionate and dedicated lawyer in Indiana (the aforementioned Ken), and year after year of complicated, drawn-out litigation effort, at zero cost.

What I remember best in this case is that the ACLU did what it does every day. It transcended all differences of creed and dogma, and honored the core mandates of every religious and secular code, whether it be the Sermon on the Mount or tikkum olam or the charitable pillar of Islam: ACLU of Indiana came to the aid of the most vulnerable among us.

Gilbert Holmes, Executive Director, 2008 to 2012

When I was asked to write a short article describing a case that I felt was highly important during my time asGilbert Holmes webGilbert Holmes executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, this was, in my opinion, not an easy task, made difficult by a unique reality. The legal staff of the ACLU of Indiana is perhaps the most active, aggressive and successful team of litigators in the civil liberties advocacy arena.

That said, I believe one of the most important and impactful cases ever brought by the Indiana affiliate was filed in 2011 in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana. The case, Planned Parenthood of Indiana, Inc., et al., v Commissioner Indiana State Department of Health, was in response to state legislative action prohibiting state and federal funds from being used to fund women's health services, such as those provided by Planned Parenthood.

The state law, if upheld and implemented, would have had a devastating effect on the lives and well-being of thousands of poor and less affluent families, many of whom are single-parent households, by denying them access to affordable health care and family planning.

Unlike the vast majority of actions brought by our legal team against various governmental actions, this case proceeded through the District Court, and on appeal, through the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and ultimately to the Supreme Court of the United States. At each level, Planned Parenthood prevailed and the state law was struck down as unconstitutional.

In my opinion, the impact of this case will have far-reaching implications, and could be seen as a resounding victory for well over half of the state's population—our female citizens.