You have the right to speak your mind. You have the right to choose your friends and have them meet together. You have the right to publish and receive news without government control or censorship.
You have the right to practice your religious beliefs. Additionally, the government cannot establish or favor a particular religion. You have the right to pursue your private affairs without unwarranted government intrusion.
These rights and the law equally protect and apply to you and all citizens. These are your civil liberties. They are guaranteed through the U.S. Constitution and the courts.
And, for the past 60 years, they have been the marching orders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
It began in 1955 when opposition to the growing civil rights movement and Mc Carthyism posed serious threats to the constitutional rights of Kentuckians. Dedicated to the belief that your civil liberties should be protected, a group of citizens founded the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union, now called ACLU of KY.
The mission was never an easy one. Preserving liberty requires stamina and resolve. Thankfully, these advocates for justice stepped forward to help secure the promise of our democracy.
Former University of Kentucky chemistry professor Don Sands led public forums on civil liberties. He believed that educating the public about civil liberties was one way to secure that promise.
After retiring from the UK chemistry department in 1999, he led a revival of the Central Kentucky chapter of the ACLU through a series of public forums that explored issues of religious freedom, reproductive rights, privacy and LGBT rights.
For nearly 10 years, Sands lined up the speakers, contacted the media and promoted the forums, often posting fliers on nearly 100 bulletin boards on the UK campus.
While debate over our civil liberties might at times be uncomfortable, Sands invited the public into the constitutional classroom where experts offered different perspectives on current issues. Annual forums on cases and proposals before the U.S. Supreme Court and the General Assembly drew some of the largest audiences.
Sands' efforts followed in the steps of others before him, like the late Tom Hogan, the Louisville attorney who filed suit in U.S. District Court in 1971 on behalf of the ACLU of KY and local plaintiffs, which eventually led to school desegregation in Jefferson County.
Sands will receive the Thomas L. Hogan Award on Nov. 12 at the ACLU of KY Bill of Rights program which honors individuals who have made considerable contributions to the advancement or preservation of civil rights.
Majority public opinion has not always favored the efforts of the ACLU, and its advocacy on behalf of minority voices has often been misunderstood.
The historic school desegregation cases in the 1970s were not easy. Nor were the cases in the 1980s that defeated efforts to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms and courthouses. In that same decade, the ACLU of KY established the Reproductive Freedom Project in 1989 to protect the private lives of men and women.
In Lexington and in communities across the state, the ACLU has been there for more than 60 years, educating and uniting local citizens to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Whether it is the ongoing effort to abolish the death penalty or newer issues such as immigrants' rights, LGBT equality and voting rights, the ACLU of KY is the watchdog for liberty.
And because no victory ever stays won, the ACLU of KY, now 3,000 members strong, will vigilantly protect your civil liberties for decades.