The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." Officially nonpartisan, the organization has been supported and criticized by liberal and conservative organizations alike.
The ACLU works through litigation and lobbying and it has over 1,200,000 members and an annual budget of over $100 million. Local affiliates of the ACLU are active in almost all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk. Legal support from the ACLU can take the form of direct legal representation or preparation of amicus curiae briefs expressing legal arguments when another law firm is already providing representation.
In addition to representing persons and organizations in lawsuits, the ACLU lobbies for policy positions that have been established by its board of directors. Current positions of the ACLU include: opposing the death penalty; supporting same-sex marriage and the right of LGBT people to adopt; supporting birth control and abortion rights; eliminating discrimination against women, minorities, and LGBT people; supporting the rights of prisoners and opposing torture; and opposing government preference for religion over non-religion, or for particular faiths over others.
Legally, the ACLU consists of two separate but closely affiliated nonprofit organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, a 501(c)(4) social welfare group, and the ACLU Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. Both organizations engage in civil rights litigation, advocacy, and education, but only donations to the 501(c)(3) foundation are tax deductible, and only the 501(c)(4) group can engage in unlimited political lobbying. The two organizations share office space and employees.
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