The Board of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties recognizes esteemed board member Jim McElroy, for receiving one of the American Association for Justice’s top honors, the Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award this week. The Weinglass award is presented to the person “who has made a notable contribution to the defense of civil liberties by bringing, trying, or resolving a suit, or by otherwise protecting or advancing civil liberties, in a way that has had a significant impact in the past year or over the course of his/her career,” according to a statement by the AAJ, formerly known as the American Trial Lawyers Association.

McElroy has a long and storied history defending the rights of America’s most vulnerable, including years of service with the Southern Poverty Law Center as a cooperating attorney and as chair of the board of directors. He has fought hate, bigotry, and the denial of basic human rights in many forms. Among his notable accomplishments here in San Diego is his decades of work defending the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  Since the late 1980s, McElroy has worked to challenge the presence of the 43-foot tall Latin cross atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, claiming that the religious symbol’s presence on government land violates provisions of the U.S. and California constitutions prohibiting the government from favoring one religion over another. The San Diego ACLU partnered with him on this case for years, and later, in 2007, filed a companion lawsuit, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, et al. v. Robert F. Gates, requesting the court to hold unconstitutional the federal government’s continued display of the Mt. Soledad Cross.

“The First Amendment does not have a more dedicated or formidable defender than Jim McElroy,” said Greg Rose, chair of the San Diego ACLU. “Jim holds the principles of our founders foremost, unrelentingly, even when it is enormously unpopular to do so. He is an inspiration and a civil rights icon.”

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The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties fights for individual rights and fundamental freedoms for all through education, litigation, and policy advocacy.

Photo courtesy Southern Poverty Law Center.