AUSTIN – American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke has announced that the organization will move its main offices to Houston next July as the keystone to a five-year plan to grow its statewide presence as Texas’ preeminent civil rights watchdog.
“We are excited at the prospect of relocating our main offices to Texas’ largest city and the fourth largest city in the country,” said Burke. “A city as dynamic and diverse as Houston is truly the face of the new Texas and the right setting for our dedicated staff to write the newest chapter in the storied history of the ACLU of Texas.”
The plan to grow membership and enhance local advocacy includes increasing the number of offices throughout the state, beginning with a border office in Brownsville in early 2011. The ACLU of Texas will maintain a litigation, legislative, and advocacy office in Austin. In the next five years, the ACLU of Texas also plans to open offices in Dallas-Fort Worth and West Texas.
The ACLU of Texas is the eighth largest ACLU affiliate in the United States with more than 20,000 supporters. The organization focuses on protecting fundamental rights and liberties embodied in the U.S. Constitution, state and federal law.
“This is an important step in the growth of an organization that, in the past five years, has grown supporters to more than 20,000 and tripled its annual revenue,” said Board President Paul Asofsky. Much of that growth occurred since 2006 when the ACLU made the Texas affiliate part of the Strategic Affiliate Initiative (SAI). As one of five initial SAI affiliates, the ACLU of Texas received additional resources to expand its legal, legislative, public education, development and local advocacy programs. Since 2000, the staff has grown from one fulltime employee to a team of 17, which includes attorneys, policy analysts, communications and philanthropy specialists.
“Terri and her staff are recognized nationally as one of the most effective state affiliates of the ACLU. After much consideration and debate, the board recently voted to approve the move and join with the national organization in a five-year extension of the Strategic Affiliate Initiative,” said Asofsky.
The forebear of the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Civil Liberties Union, was founded in 1938 in San Antonio by U.S. Rep. Maury Maverick. Over the next two decades, independent civil liberties unions formed in cities around the state.
By 1963, there were four independent chapters: Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. That year groups united to form the Texas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Other local civil liberties chapters soon joined the ACLU of Texas, including Amarillo, Brazos Valley (Bryan-College Station), Corpus Christi, Denton, East Texas, Greater Fort Worth, Lubbock, Sabine and Wichita Falls.
“The Houston area has been where some of our more important cases originated. Houston has presented the ACLU of Texas with some of its greatest challenges as well as major, impactful opportunities,” said Burke. ACLU of Texas cases with Houston-area roots include the 2010 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that uphold a lower court judgment prohibiting school administrators in Needville, near Houston, from punishing an American Indian kindergarten student for exercising his family’s religious beliefs by wearing long braids (Arocha v. Needville Independent School District). Also a 2007 federal district court decision that overturned the City of Houston’s unconstitutional parade ordinance (Black Heritage Society v. City of Houston). As well as Santa Fe ISD v Doe, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, that the Houston-area suburban school district could not coerce student participation in a religious program.