Meet a civil libertarian member: Matthew Stark

Name: Matthew Stark.

When and where I was born: New York City, Jan. 27, 1930. I lived in New York until I went to school at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Where I live: My wife, Terri, and I have two homes, one in Minneapolis and the other in Fort Myers, Fla. We’re snowbirds.

Education: Two degrees at Ohio University: English and B.S. in education, 1951. I earned a master’s in educational psychology in 1959 from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and a Ph.D. in educational administration and counseling, Western Reserve University, 1963.

Occupation: In my first post-graduate job, I recruited, trained and supervised advisers to students in dorms, as well as to the fraternities and sororities at the University of Minnesota. I immediately changed the “house mother” title, with their agreement, to “house directors.” Labeling them “house mothers” was insulting. I developed programs where they could take any course they wanted for free.

I stayed at the U of M as adviser to Students’ Extracurricular Activity, reporting to the dean of students and president. We developed programs to involve students in extra curriculum, including for extra credit. Then I set up the Office of the Coordinator of Human Relations Programs. Martin Luther King Jr. and I developed a program where students at University of Minnesota were trained by me and others to go down South to Montgomery, Selma, etc., live there and work with black and white people positively concerned about race relations. I met Dr. King through the ACLU and was his legal liaison.

When I retired from the university, I became the first paid director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (1973–87), after having serving as volunteer president. I did what executive directors do: I dealt with the media, schools and colleges, etc. I was either the plaintiff or recruited plaintiffs for litigation and recruited lawyers to do volunteer work for the MCLU.

Person in history I admire: Donald G. Patterson, head of the psychology department at the University of Minnesota, and one of the main founders of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Larson, now a federal district judge, also involved in the original founding of the MCLU.

These are a few of my favorite things: I love to fish, walk in the woods and around the lakes in the Twin Cities. I’ve done a lot of fishing in Canada and Minnesota. I love to sit with my friends in a tented area outside, enjoying the lake and sunset, talking and drinking cold beer.

These are things I smite: Teachers at public schools who impose their religious views on their students. The most serious problem we’re facing in this world is overpopulation — the Earth cannot sustain the millions upon millions of people living on it.

A quotation I like: Coined myself: Civil liberties are essential if we’re going to have a democracy.

My doubts about religion started: When I was a kid. My family was primarily Unitarian. I was astonished by what I read and saw about religion and how people I liked were treated because of their diverse religious views, or their sexuality. It always bothered me.

There’s a book written by Dick Hewetson [a longtime FFRF state representative] about the MCLU and my role in it: History of the Gay Movement in Minnesota and the Role of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.

Ways I promote freethought: I have and will continue to support public education and my belief that all students ought to go to public schools. I support organizations with which I have fundamental agreement, such as FFRF, and I think what you guys are doing is absolutely wonderful.

I helped take cases to keep religion out of government as director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. I’m proud of being grand marshal in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival in 2008 and to have received a variety of local, educational, humanist and atheist awards.

I was always extremely interested in separation of church and state. When I was in public school, they had the kids praying, so I blew the whistle as a student. Later in my life, when I came across FFRF, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I worked with Anne Nicol Gaylor and even sent FFRF a check to help put up a portrait of her in the new lobby!

Freedom From Religion Foundation