ACLU of Iowa




Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2017):

Revenue: $85,912
Expenses: $126,591
Assets: $215,851




Legal advocacy group

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The ACLU of Iowa, formerly known as Iowa Civil Liberties Union, is the Iowa affiliate of the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Though nominally nonpartisan, the ACLU of Iowa has historically supported left-leaning demographic and special interest groups such as communists, labor unions, LGBT people, and anti-war and anti-death penalty activists. 1

The ACLU of Iowa played a key role in bringing Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Schools to court, a landmark Supreme Court case that defined U.S. public school students’ First Amendment rights. 2

Founding and History

The ACLU of Iowa was founded in 1935 by Illinois State University Professor Edward S. Allen as the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (ICLU). It was the first ACLU affiliate to not be located in a coastal city and the fifth state chapter to be created. 3 Allen, a professor of mathematics, held several terms as president of the state chapter and remained involved as a board member until the 1980s. 4 The first decade of the ACLU of Iowa’s existence focused on defending the free speech rights of Communists and labor union activists. 5

In addition to participating in the Iowa civil rights movement, the ACLU of Iowa took a lead role in abolishing the death penalty in Iowa in 1965. The chapter also successfully opposed the state’s 1995 attempt to reinstate capital punishment. 6

The ACLU of Iowa’s biggest accomplishment came from representing Mary Beth Tinker and several other students in a lawsuit against the Des Moines public school system, which made it to the Supreme Court as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Schools. 7 In 1965, Tinker and other students wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. Their public school responded by sending the students home and the ACLU of Iowa represented the students in a lawsuit that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the students, arguing that public schools cannot censor student speech unless it is disruptive.

The ACLU of Iowa has taken on several controversial cases. In 2004, the ACLU of Iowa successfully sued the state for violating the due process rights of detained pretrial sex offenders. Later that year, the chapter again sued on behalf of sex offenders in an attempt to repeal a state law that prohibited sex offenders from sleeping within 2,000 feet of a school, day care, or registered childcare provider. 8

In 2006, the ACLU of Iowa assumed its current name. It switched because it felt that the new name, as opposed to ICLU, better reflected its affiliation with the national ACLU organization. 9

In 2009, the ACLU of Iowa participated as a friend of the court in the Iowa Supreme Court case, Varnum v. Brien, that effectively mandated state recognition of same-sex marriages in the state of Iowa, six years ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges case that did the same at the national level. 10

Present Activities

In recent years, the ACLU of Iowa has focused on expanding abortion access, left-of-center social policy, and transgender interests in the state of Iowa.

It successfully challenged Iowa’s 2018 pro-life “fetal heartbeat” law, which would have banned abortions past 6 weeks, around the time when doctors can usually detect a fetal heartbeat. 11

During the 2020 Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, the ACLU of Iowa, as part of a national ACLU campaign, launched “Rights for All,” a presidential campaign engagement program that graded Democratic candidates on their adherence to left-of-center policies. 12Policies that the ACLU of Iowa encouraged support for included felon voting, “dismantling” border enforcement, and expanding access to abortions. 13

Most recently, the ACLU of Iowa has spoken out against the state’s attempt to prevent the implementation of public school curricula based on the New York Times left-of-center 1619 Project. Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, called the state’s ban an attempt to prevent “students from being exposed to an important discussion on the impact and legacy of slavery in our country.” 14 The 1619 Project asserts that U.S. history and modern America are best understood as completely dependent upon the institution of slavery. 15 It also labels Abraham Lincoln as “racist” and considers slavery to be the primary reason for the American Revolution, both views contested by historians including historians on the political left. 16


The ACLU of Iowa’s 2019 tax filings show total revenues of $1,164,895 and total expenses of $945,603. 17


The executive director of the ACLU of Iowa is Mark Stringer. 18 Prior to joining the ACLU of Iowa, Stringer was the senior minister at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines. He is most known for officiating Iowa’s first same-sex marriage after the ACLU of Iowa won the case to secure compulsory state recognition of such unions. He draws a yearly salary of $122,672. 19


  1. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  2. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  3. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  4. Lawson, Karen G., and Tanya Zanish-Belcher . “Edward and Minne Allen: Iowa Citizens, World Citizens .” Iowa State Universtiy , 2010.
  5. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  6. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  7. “Mary Beth Tinker Reflects on Being a Student Rights Pioneer.” ACLU of Iowa, October 26, 2017.
  8. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  9. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  10. “Our History.” ACLU of Iowa, September 7, 2020.
  11. “ACLU-Planned Parenthood Win Blocking Abortion Ban Will Not Be Appealed.” ACLU of Iowa, February 19, 2019.
  12. “ACLU Launches First-Ever Presidential Campaign Engagement.” ACLU of Iowa, March 29, 2019.
  13. “The Rights for All Platform.” Rights for All, May 23, 2019.
  14. Stringer, Mark. “ACLU of Iowa Objects to Proposed 1619 Project Ban in Schools.” American Civil Liberties Union, February 11, 2021.
  15. Murawski, John. “Disputed NY Times ‘1619 Project’ Already Shaping Schoolkids’ Minds on Race.” Real Clear Investigations. January 31, 2020. Accessed February 11, 2020.
  16. Anderson, James. “U. professors send letter requesting corrections to 1619 Project.” The Daily Princetonian. February 6, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2020. ; Mackaman, Tom. “An interview with historian James Oakes on the New York Times’ 1619 Project.” World Socialist Web Site. November 18, 2019. Accessed February 14, 2020.
  17. “ACLU of Iowa 990 .” Guidestar. Accessed April 22, 2021.
  18. “Mark Stringer MDiv ’01 Named ACLU of Iowa Executive Director.” Meadville Lombard Theological School, October 2017.
  19. “ACLU of Iowa 990 .” Guidestar. Accessed April 22, 2021.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: March - February
  • Tax Exemption Received: December 1, 1970

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Mar Form 990EZ $85,912 $126,591 $215,851 $5,728 $0 $0 $0 $0
    2016 Mar Form 990 $141,404 $104,150 $231,450 $1,490 N $138,492 $0 $2,961 $0
    2015 Mar Form 990 $112,248 $117,584 $194,067 $819 N $90,349 $0 $2,951 $0 PDF
    2014 Mar Form 990 $120,509 $147,196 $238,222 $34,986 N $117,240 $0 $3,144 $19,828 PDF
    2013 Mar Form 990 $69,458 $131,042 $155,449 $2,784 N $66,499 $0 $2,910 $0 PDF
    2012 Mar Form 990 $43,353 $106,754 $229,961 $15,712 N $40,010 $0 $2,558 $0 PDF
    2011 Mar Form 990 $39,649 $52,752 $284,331 $6,681 N $36,219 $0 $2,328 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    ACLU of Iowa

    505 5TH AVE STE 901
    DES MOINES, IA 50309-2316