60 Years of Protecting Your Rights


The ACLU of Indiana was originally known as the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU). Founded in 1953, the ICLU's first challenge was to defend its own freedom to gather publicly. Irving Fink and the other founders had booked the Indiana War Memorial auditorium for the first meeting, a location that was protested by the American Legion and the Indiana Minute Women. Ultimately, the ICLU had to meet at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Indianapolis. This "Argument in Indianapolis" lasted 20 years, until the ICLU was able to conduct a meeting in the War Memorial in 1973.



The ICLU represented Vietnam War protesters including Jehovah's Witnesses and the "Marian 8," a group of Marian College students arrested for protesting. The ICLU also took on many cases involving welfare rights and unfit jail conditions.


In Crews v. Cloncs, the ICLU won an appeal in the Seventh Circuit over public school rules mandating the length of hair for male students. Because of this highly publicized case, parents from all over the state contacted the ICLU with requests to intervene on behalf of other students.


On Feb. 1, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that prohibited the ICLU from holding meetings at the Indiana War Memorial. Victory was celebrated with a program on free speech before a capacity audience in the War Memorial auditorium.


The ICLU defended 12 Muslim inmates housed in the state reformatory in Pendleton, Ind., arguing that prison officials must respect and accommodate all religious beliefs.


The ICLU won an important First Amendment victory in Hendren v. Campbell when parents in West Clark Community Schools argued successfully that their children's ninth grade biology textbook taught creationism.


The ICLU won a Supreme Court victory in Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Pentecostal House of Prayer when it secured an exemption from the Indiana regulation requiring photographs on every driver's license, which Pentecostals considered prohibited graven images.


Galvanized by a series of brutal police killings that sparked tensions between the Indianapolis Police Department and the African-American community, the ICLU helped form the Indiana Law Enforcement Community Relations Coalition, which became instrumental in establishing a civilian review board in 1989.


The ICLU ended political patronage in the state's license branch system with Robinson v. Packard, a class-action lawsuit filed in 1983. Two years later, the ICLU organized the License Branch Reform Coalition to work for legislative reform.


The ICLU won a major First Amendment victory in American Booksellers v. Hudnut when the Supreme Court of the United States summarily dismissed an appeal of a Seventh Circuit ruling by the City of Indianapolis striking down the ordinance that proscribed pornography as discrimination against women.


The ICLU filed a friend of the court brief in Bogart v. Ryan White and made an appearance in trial court arguing for the dissolution of the preliminary injunction prohibiting Ryan White, who had AIDS, from attending school. White, age 13, of Kokomo, won the battle in Clinton Circuit Court.

In State v. Paula Cooper, the ICLU filed a friend of the court brief arguing that the death penalty as applied to minors violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The case received international attention and broad appeals for clemency, including from Pope John Paul II. In 1989, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned her sentence.


When patrons of the Sunset Center for senior citizens in Vincennes, Ind. filed a lawsuit against the city for violating their First Amendment rights, the ICLU struck a deal to freeze the evictions until the lawsuit had been settled. The patrons claimed the city's housing authority voted to deny use of the building in retaliation for their support of the mayor's opponent in the primary election.


In "In the Matter of Sue Ann Lawrance," the ICLU and cooperating attorneys filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of parents of a woman who existed for four years in a persistent vegetative state. As a result, they were allowed to halt artificial feedings and permit her to die naturally.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the ICLU when it argued that the Trustees program to provide shelter for homeless individuals was so inadequate that it violated due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.


In Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Bayh, the ICLU won the right for the Klan to hold a rally on the steps of the Indiana State Capitol building, exercising their First Amendment rights.

The ICLU also teamed up with the Indiana Legal Services Organization to take on the "Dirty Dozen" jail cases, which targeted the worst 13 jails in Indiana and ultimately improved conditions for all jails across the state.


In Town of St. John v. State Board of Tax Commissioners, the ICLU won a monumental victory in Indiana Tax Court when it challenged the method Indiana used to assess real property for tax purposes.


The ICLU prevailed in a class-action lawsuit, Smith v. City of Carmel, brought on behalf of the NAACP, which challenged the Carmel, Ind. Police Department for conducting traffic stops without probable cause that were motivated by racial and other improper reasons.

In Books v. Elkhart County, Ind., the ICLU stopped the City of Elkhart's practice of displaying the Ten Commandments on the municipal building lawn. However, in 2005, the County won an appeal to display the Commandments with other "historical documents."

1998 - 2000

The ICLU sued public schools in Anderson and Rush Counties for drug testing in violation of Fourth Amendment rights of privacy and protection against unreasonable searches. In one case, Willis v. Anderson Comm. Sch. Corp., the Seventh Circuit found the testing unconstitutional, saying fighting did not represent a cause for reasonable suspicion of substance abuse.


In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, the Supreme Court of the United States limited the power of law enforcement to conduct searches using drug-sniffing dogs at roadblocks. The ICLU successfully argued that privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment were being systematically eroded by the increased use of police procedures to detect crimes.

2000 - 2004

In Hodgkins v. Peterson, the ICLU took on curfew laws adopted by the City of Indianapolis and later the State of Indiana. In 2000, a federal judge ruled in the class-action lawsuit that Indianapolis' curfew law was unconstitutional because it did not have a First Amendment exemption. In 2004, the Seventh Circuit struck down the State's curfew laws.


The ICLU challenged Governor Frank O'Bannon's plan to post a seven-foot stone monument of the Ten Commandments on the Indiana Statehouse lawn. After winning the case in District Court and on appeal, the state sought review by the Supreme Court of the United States, which refused to hear the case.


The ICLU won a victory in the Seventh Circuit for the rights of the Ku Klux Klan when the court agreed that the permit requirement and 45-day waiting period to hold a rally at Gary City Hall violated the First Amendment.


In Jones v. Jones, the ICLU successfully defended the rights of parents to instruct their children in the religion of their choice when the Seventh Circuit struck down a lower court ruling that blocked Wiccan parents from exposing their child to "non-mainstream" religion.

Another case, Hinrichs v. Bosma, challenged the practice of opening Indiana General Assembly sessions with sectarian prayer. While a federal judge ordered the prayers to be stopped in 2005, the ruling was reversed in 2007.

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a federal judge ruled in favor of a group of parents represented by the ICLU, saying that teaching so-called "intelligent design" violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.


The Indiana Civil Liberties Union changed its name to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on January 1, 2006.


In Big Hat Books, et al. v. Prosecutors, et al., the ACLU of Indiana and cooperating attorneys filed suit against all 92 Indiana county prosecutors to stop a state law requiring people who sell "sexually explicit materials" from having to register with the Indiana Secretary of State and pay a fee. A federal judge, ruling in favor of the ACLU of Indiana, said the statute "unduly burdens First Amendment rights and is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad."

The ACLU of Indiana took the fight against Indiana's voter ID law all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States but, in a 6-3 decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of the law, finding it closely related to Indiana's legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud, modernizing elections, and safeguarding voter confidence.


In the ACLU of Indiana's case, C.H. et al., v. Payne, a federal judge prevented the Indiana Department of Child Services from proceeding with planned 10 percent cuts in assistance to approximately 23,000 foster children and foster parents, and special-needs adopted children and their families.


When three students were expelled for a Facebook conversation, the ACLU of Indiana took action, filing a lawsuit defending the students' free speech rights under the First Amendment. Although the comments took place after school and caused no school disruption, the Lake County school expelled the students saying the posts violated a student handbook provision dealing with harassment. The case, S.M., et al. v. Griffith Public Schools, was settled confidentially.


The ACLU of Indiana supported a case for Muslim prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institute in Terre Haute to congregate daily for prayer during the times that prisoners were free to engage in other types of group activity. In January 2013, the District Court found in favor of the ACLU of Indiana, giving the prisoners the ability to exercise their religious obligation.

In June 2013, the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit, Indiana Youth Group, Inc. v R. Scott Waddell, challenging the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicle's authority to prevent the sales of the group's specialty license plate. Two weeks later, an Administrative Law Judge ordered the plate be reinstated.

To find out more about the ACLU of Indiana, visit the Indiana History Center's Destination Indiana exhibit.