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In 1966 a bunch of lawyers got together in a living room in Reno to talk about civil liberties – and about starting a group that would fight for the constitutional rights of every Nevadan.

From that the Nevada Civil Liberties Union was born. A few months later, it became affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Robert Chester is president of the board for ACLU of Nevada. He said that although times have changed, in some ways they haven't.

“The issues that the ACLU is facing are not all dissimilar from those kinds of issues that those folks and others were concerned about back in 1966,” Chester said.

Issues of freedom of speech, equality and discrimination continue to this day. But they're also handling case like the Education Savings Account cases in Nevada and religious freedom concerns.

“We have laws in Nevada that have been around for years that say you have to provide the service to everyone if you’re going to provide service to anyone,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. 

One of the biggest issues the ACLU of Nevada has tackled in Las Vegas is freedom of speech in the shadow of the city's biggest industry.

Chester said many casinos have tried to limit speech on the sidewalks outside their resorts, but courts have ruled against them because even though they may be owned by the casinos the sidewalks are "public thoroughfares." 

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The ACLU also squared off with the city of Las Vegas and casinos over the Fremont Street Experience. Story said the city sat down with them to craft an ordinance that would put limits on street performers in the area but not limit their freedom of speech.

“We would always rather sit down and have a conversation with folks in government trying to pass an ordinance that will obviously, potentially restrict rights,” he said.

Since that ordinance has passed, Story said there has not been one complaint from a performer that his or her rights have been violated.

Chester said one of the biggest topics that ACLU of Nevada and the national organization still deals with is privacy. 

“People don’t want the government intruding in their private lives," Chester said. The Constitution protects that privacy. However, the government is also working to protect the nation. 

Chester said the effort to find the balance between protection and privacy is on going. 

“We don’t think we have to sacrifice our freedom for our safety," he said.  

On Saturday, the ACLU of Nevada is celebrating its 50th anniversary.


Tod Story, executive director, ACLU of Nevada; Robert Chester, board president, ACLU of Southern Nevada

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