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Retired New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Claire Ebel greets state Rep. Robert Backus at a retirement celebration after 30 years of service as executive director. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

NHCLU's Ebel honored for 'courage to speak'

CONCORD - Claire Ebel was celebrated Wednesday as "a State House legend" and persistent defender of civil liberties and individual freedom during her 30 years at the helm of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

"Claire has been there to speak when many may not have had the courage to speak," state Sen. Sylvia Larsen told the more than 150 people gathered at the Capitol Center for the Arts to celebrate Ebel's retirement as NHCLU executive director.

It was a light evening spent among friends, colleagues, lawmakers and Gov. Maggie Hassan - nearly all of whom shared stories of Ebel's quiet, yet firm, hand in ensuring pending bills were constitutional and government didn't overreach.

Though not an attorney, Ebel "saved us from our own worst instincts" and helped ensure "bad law" was not crafted through her guidance on constitutional issues.

Hassan commended Ebel, 70, for never failing to protect the Constitution and being a "powerful advocate" on behalf of civil rights in New Hampshire.

Ebel did not disappoint when her turn came to take the microphone - defending the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

"It is not a self-defensive piece of writing. If we don't do what we need to do everyday . it will not protect us all and it will not protect us forever," Ebel warned.

"The NHCLU is the voice for the Bill of Rights. That's our client," Ebel explained in an interview earlier in the day.

"That's what we do and who we are...and protecting individuals when the government is attempting to restrict or eliminate their constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights," said Ebel, who officially retired Jan. 2.

"It's been a glorious ride," Ebel said of her three decade career.

Ebel ranked among her greatest legacies the organization's hiring of its first staff attorney in 2007.

"It has put the NHCLU squarely on the map in terms of being an active participant in the legislative process," Ebel explained.

Going into classrooms across the state to discuss pending state and federal legislation and current events is "the thing that I loved the most."

Her other love is speaking out in legislative hearings on the average 400 to 450 bills a year that have some bearing on civil liberties.


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