This is one in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Each week through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
“It’s also true of the ACLU that a lot of members don’t agree with every position of the ACLU. You can find people with very diverse views who believe overall in the ACLU’s protection of civil rights. . . . If you believe half of what the ACLU stands for, you should be a member of the ACLU. If you believe 80% of it, you should be a board member.” -Don Sands, 2015 Thomas L. Hogan Award Winner
Longtime ACLU-KY member Don Sands decided to take a more active role in the organization when his local central Kentucky chapter’s board chair position opened up. Sands became board chair in 1999, after serving a few years on the central Kentucky chapter’s board. Unlike the Louisville office, the central Kentucky chapter did not handle litigation, and instead served a primarily educational role.
Sands said the chapter saw an increase in both interest and membership in the early 2000s because people were alarmed by the actions of then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. “That alarmed people about civil liberties.”
“We’d have informative sessions to educate people about civil liberties issues,” Sands explained. “We’d try to help people make up their minds, talk to them about the sides and let them come to their own conclusions.”
The chapter’s forums, which took place about four times a year, were designed to represent both sides of the issue in question. “Sometimes the people on the other side would be more effective,” Sands said. “That was always a chance we took, but usually we thought the logic was on the ACLU side, so if we just presented an unbiased program, people would see the light and see things the way we wanted them to.” Sands said that forums covering controversial issues like religion in schools often drew the biggest crowds and many attendees in opposition to the ACLU-KY.
The forums helped increase the ACLU-KY’s presence in central Kentucky. “It’s so much a Louisville organization, Louisville-centered, and not enough involvement in the rest of the state,” Sands explained. The central Kentucky chapter’s forums, many conducted under Sands’s leadership, helped to counteract that trend and keep the ACLU-KY a statewide organization.
The ACLU-KY is honoring Don Sands with its highest honor, the Thomas Hogan Award at their 60th anniversary Bill of Rights celebration.