ACLU opens Charleston office

Graham Boyd

In the place where South Carolina's constitution was ratified in 1788, a group gathered Wednesday to open a new state office for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Interim executive director Graham Boyd was joined by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley along with legal, religious and civil rights leaders for the opening at the Old Exchange Building.

Following the ceremony, Boyd took time to weigh in on some controversial issues facing the state.

Question: What can the ACLU do to fight the perceived politically correct backlash against Christians who want to display their faith in public places?

Answer: The ACLU is very strong in defending the rights of Americans to practice religion. (He noted three 2008 cases, including one in Louisiana where the organization helped fight for an individual's right to quote Bible verses on public streets.)

I think people are sometimes confused by the rhetoric that is out there about the ACLU. It has proved to be a fairly strong fundraiser, to paint the ACLU to be anti-religion. If you look at our track record that really isn't the case.

Q: Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Sanford waged a fight against the federal government on REAL ID. What is the ACLU's stance on a national ID card?

A: We agree with Governor Sanford and applaud him for making a stand. This is an issue about privacy.

There is really no evidence that it would create greater security to have a national database and ID card. It's big government, trying to peel away privacy protection without having a good enough reason to do so.

Q: Major Mark Keel is the new director assigned to turn around the state Department of Public Safety. What does he need to do to ensure motorists in South Carolina aren't mistreated by troopers?

A: The best way to protect public safety is for the police to earn the trust and the respect of the people they serve. The recent scandal with the Highway Patrol makes it hard for all police to their jobs effectively.

Major Keel is going to need to put in place strong training that is ongoing and he has to create a management culture that makes clear that the duties of an officer absolutely and always include following the law themselves.

Q: The state Legislature just passed an illegal-immigration reform law being touted as the toughest in the nation. What needs to happen to make sure that the enforcement of that law does not take away the civil rights of any human being?

A: There has been a huge growth in the number of immigrants here and that's created some difficult dynamics.

I don't think that as the ACLU we have been engaged with this issue enough to offer any answers but I can say we will be listening and asking for guidance and input from people around this state. Our goal will be to move towards fair and just situations.

Q: How can the ACLU be relevant in Charlestonians lives?

A: Privacy concerns are at the center of the ACLU's mission. We want to make sure people's medical information stays private in a time when insurance companies are looking to cut off people's coverage for any kind of medical risk.

We want to keep people's financial information private in a time when identity (theft) and fraud has created so much pain and suffering.

We want to make sure people's intimate personal information stays private in a time when the Internet threatens to make our most personal details subject to the entire world's examination.