ACLU Comment on the Passing of Civil Liberties' Heavyweight, Muhammad Ali

June 4, 2016 12:30 pm
Muhammad Ali in London

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NEW YORK — Muhammad Ali, the three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world, humanitarian, and ​global icon, has died at the age of 74.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this comment:

“Muhammad Ali was much more than a boxer — and that’s something, considering he was The Greatest of all time. But strikingly, Ali’s most valuable contributions to American culture didn’t occur inside the ring but outside of it. He was a heavyweight champion of civil liberties and for civil rights, who sacrificed his boxing title ​for ​conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War and who ​struggled mightily against white supremacy inside and outside of the United States. He epitomized the principled resistance of the ’60s, when many Americans from all walks of life worked to make this nation a more perfect union where freedom and equality weren’t aspirational but lived reality. Muhammad Ali, the man, is dead. But Muhammad Ali, the symbol, will live on as an example of how to live a life of dignity in pursuit of justice, no matter the consequences.”

After Ali was convicted of draft evasion in 1967 despite his application for conscientious objector status, he appealed his conviction and was represented by the ACLU. Ali argued that his Islamic beliefs prohibited him from fighting in the Vietnam War after he was conscripted for Army duty​. For his antiwar stance, boxing commissions stripped him of his title and every state denied him a boxing license​, exiling him from the ring for nearly four​ years at the peak of his career​. In the summer of 1971, the Supreme Court held that Ali’s refusal to go to war was “religiously based and sincerely held” and overturned his conviction.

Three decades later, Ali was the first recipient of ​the ACLU Muhammad Ali Champion of Liberty Award for Heavyweights in the Arts, Business, Science and Sports for a life lived championing the ideals reflected in the Bill of Rights.

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