Civil Liberties Under the Reagan Administration





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Published on Jul 6, 2012

The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1981 ushered in an eight year period of conservative leadership in the U.S. government. Under his leadership, the government pushed a conservative social agenda, including outlawing abortion, inserting prayer in schools, banning pornography, and resisting gay rights.

Fifty years after the Scopes trial, the ACLU found itself fighting another classroom case: the Arkansas 1981 creationism statute, which required schools to teach the biblical account of creation as a scientific alternative to evolution. The ACLU won the case in the McLean v. Arkansas decision.

In 1982, the ACLU became involved in a case involving the distribution of child pornography (New York v. Ferber). In an amicus brief, the ACLU argued that child pornography that violates the three prong obscenity test should be outlawed, but that the law in question was overly restrictive because it outlawed artistic displays and otherwise non-obscene material. The court did not adopt the ACLU's position.

During the 1988 presidential election: then-Vice President George H. W. Bush noted that his opponent Michael Dukakis had described himself as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" and used that as evidence that Dukakis was "a strong, passionate liberal" and "out of the mainstream." The phrase subsequently was used by the organization in an advertising campaign.

In 1990 the ACLU defended Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, whose conviction was tainted by coerced testimony -- a violation of his fifth amendment rights -- during the Iran--Contra affair, where Oliver North was involved in illegal weapons sales to Iran in order to illegally fund the Contra guerrillas.


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