Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Certainly this is a day we should take a little time to celebrate their accomplishments and reflect on the significance they still have for those of us who believe in the work of the ACLU.
Just where would we be had Abe Lincoln not fought so hard to preserve these United States and give meaning to the ideal of equality under the law. While Lincoln may not have had a perfect record on issues of racial equality, there can be no doubt that the actions and oratory of the Great Emancipator set in motion the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, the very foundations of our modern civil rights laws. While I am sure that we all would be fighting hard for equality even if Lincoln had never been born, his life and achievements have certainly made that task easier.
Charles Darwin has also become an important figure in the fight for civil liberties. While the theory of evolution does not raise First Amendment issues, those who have fought so hard to keep public school students from even being exposed to Darwin’s teachings have consistently found themselves frustrated by the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion. For over 80 years, the ACLU has been in courthouses and legislatures, pushing back against those who have opposed and undermined the teaching of evolution in science classes. Every decade provides us with fresh opportunities to fight for upholding the First Amendment against those who seek to inject religion into the curriculum of our public school science classrooms.
And it is not just the principles associated with Lincoln and Darwin that should be remembered. Both of them used words in powerful ways to advance the ideas they believed in. They were masters of the art of using powerful writing to change people’s minds and hearts.
And finally, there is one more reason to be celebrating today. I will be taking great pleasure knowing that those who oppose us when we fight for equality and religious liberty and state are being unhappily reminded by this 200th anniversary that they have been and continue to be on the wrong side of history and progress.