Georgetown University students announced the creation of a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union this week, pending the submission of necessary paperwork to the ACLU headquarters, the Office of Student Programs and the Student Activities Commission.

At a time when civil liberties “need to be defended now more than ever,” Tom Donnelly (COL ’03) saw a need to challenge the established trend of a tide turning slowly in the direction of restricted liberties. In that spirit, the former American Civil Liberties Union intern is bringing the organization to the Georgetown campus, with a university chapter that will take shape in the upcoming weeks.

Donnelly will become part of a select group of individuals who step up their involvement in campus affairs in the final semester of their senior year. Simply put, “it’s now or never,” he said.

The first stage in the process for this new organization will be to find members. “I think that there’s a real desire to create this organization on the Georgetown campus, and I think people have been waiting for someone to act as the catalyst,” Donnelly said. He has already e-mailed several university club presidents with the goal of finding interested students, and has received feedback from several individuals who want to get involved.

Though Donnelly labels himself “slightly left of center,” a liberal ideology is not a prerequisite for membership.

“While interning at the ACLU last year, I quickly learned that most people interested and involved in the organization are more generally to the left of me on most issues, but that was expected,” he said. “With that said, the ACLU serves an important role in the larger political discourse unfolding in American politics. More than anything, I think it’s important that there is a forum and body on campus that will respond to and act upon issues important to the ACLU.”

Speaking of the attacks that the organization has received from some media sources, Donnelly cautioned students that they shouldn’t “be afraid to listen to reasoned argument from our side.”

“It’s often easy to be taken by arguments that require one to sacrifice liberties for security, and I understand this. However, people must also understand that once liberties are taken away, it is unlikely that they will be given back, so those decisions must be made for good reasons,” Donnelly said. “I hope to provide the students of the Georgetown community, future leaders of the world, forums to decide for themselves how they feel on these pressing issues of the day.”

Donnelly has already brought his plan forward to OSP Acting Director Martha Swanson and SAC Chair Matt Connolly (COL ’04), and the organization is likely to acquire officially recognized status soon. The only remaining hurdle to clear is to develop a constitution that would be approved both by OSP and SAC, and also by the national ACLU.

“There are some requirements from the national office, but they seem to mostly be there for support,” Donnelly said.

Collaboration is already in place on the George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University campuses. Donnelly knows the presidents of both of those chapters and hopes to follow their model.

Donnelly plans to schedule a meeting for interested students within the next two weeks, with the constitution and the group’s initial plans being the focus. The Georgetown chapter of the ACLU will debut with a focus on the death penalty. Donnelly hopes that the group will be able to represent itself at the National Youth Death Penalty Awareness Conference, scheduled for Feb. 22 at Howard Law School. Donnelly is hoping that the ACLU can align itself with the Georgetown chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty in order to create a united Georgetown presence for the conference.

One of the Georgetown ACLU chapter’s main goals will be to engage in public dialogues with other groups on campus, opening up to conservative groups to co-sponsor forums where diverse opinions will be voiced.

“While raising simple awareness is important; active, critical discussion between those who disagree is the key to an organization such as the ACLU serving its purpose, ” he said.

Unlike many campus organizations that merely seem to rally their own established supporters, the Georgetown ACLU chapter would be more concerned with “open dialogue, rather than simple agitation.”

Donnelly mentioned a recent viewing of the play “Exonerated,” a critique of the death penalty. “While watching the play, all I could think about the whole time was how everyone in the theater likely already opposed the death penalty. What’s the purpose of the work, then? . It’s most important to reach out to and challenge the ACLU’s opponents, to make them rethink their views.”

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