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Notable statements on the importance of the ACLU in national life




"The mixing of government and religion can be a threat to free government, even if no one is forced to participate. When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion, it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some."

Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun(1908-1998) in his concurring opinion on Lee v. Weisman, a 1992 case challenging school-sponsored religious worship during public school graduation ceremonies. For more information about Justice Blackmun see the CNN website. 

"If I were to give liberty to the press, my power could not last three days."
Napoleon (1769-1821) In Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Napoleon or The Man of the World," Representative Men, 1850

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding" --Justice Louis D. Brandeis, opinion in Olmstead vs. United States, 1928

"Those who won our independence... valued liberty both as an end and as a means.... They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.... They knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear... that fear breeds repression;  that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government.... Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution....Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards.... They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty." --Justice Louis D. Brandeis  Whitney v. California, 1927.

"Attack another's rights and you destroy your own."-John Jay Chapman

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin, Motto of the Historical Review of Pennsylvania

"Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." 
Thomas Jefferson, Inaugural address, 1801 

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to W.S. Smith

"It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others." -Thomas Jefferson

"No person shall be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution."
Thomas Jefferson, proposed Constitution for Virginia, 1776

"All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion; and ...the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, 1779

"They have rights who dare maintain them." -James Russell Lowell

"On a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism." 
James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Convention, 1788 

"Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."
John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

"When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for."
John Milton, Areopagitica,1644

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression." -Thomas Paine

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." -Thomas Paine

"In a republic we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted." 
Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, 1910 


"Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others." -William Allen White

Last Updated September 05, 2005
Copyright ACLU September, 2005