Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2007

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Empowering Youth to Carry On America’s Democratic Legacy

~Entertainment & Sports Law and Intellectual Property~

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Daily Record’s Special Law Day Supplement on May 1, 2007.

On Law Day, we celebrate our democracy, our freedom and our country’s rich legal heritage. Every May 1, Americans traditionally honor our U.S. Constitution – the principles of law that guarantee our doctrine of liberty, justice and equality for all under the law. Law Day is a time to reflect on the individual rights we treasure as American citizens and commemorate our American legacy, our strong democracy.

Law Day was actually created in 1958, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation declaring “it is fitting that the American people should remember with pride and vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice and equality under the law.” In 1961, Congress set aside May 1 as a “special day of celebration by the American people in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States of America,” and as an occasion for “rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under the laws.”

Today as we celebrate Law Day, we remember our forefathers, who empowered us with the U. S. Constitution and its Bills of Rights, a precious document flexible enough to have protected our rights for the last two centuries. Our forefathers passed on this American legacy, empowering generations of Americans with the tools to safeguard and protect our freedom. Now, we are the forefathers who will pass on this legacy to the next generation, so this May 1, we vow to empower our youth with the tools they will need to safeguard and carry on America’s legacy.

The future of our country is in the hands of our young people. Thus, it is vital that they understand the true meaning of our democracy, the basic functions of our government, the significance of our U. S. Constitution and our Rule of Law and their role, rights and responsibilities as citizens. Young people need to know and understand these concepts to not only function in society but to be equipped with the tools they need to effectively pass on the American legacy.

However, where do young people acquire these tools? Our schools used to be the “empowerment zone,” the primary source of civics through social studies courses. But the National Assessment for Education Progress reports “only 25 percent of this nation’s students now receive an adequate civics education.” This is true in Maryland, too, as state schools focus on the “No Child Left Behind Testing Mandates.” These tests drive what is now taught so teachers focus on math and reading and little time is left for civics.

This dearth of civics education is already evident in many adults today who lack an understanding of even the basic functions of our democracy. According to a 2005 American Bar Association public opinion poll, “only 55 percent of the American public could correctly name this country’s three branches of government; 22 percent labeled them “Republican, Democrat and Independent;” and 16 percent believed they were “local, state and federal government.” A similar ABA 1999 poll found 65 percent did not know a defendant was innocent until proven guilty, one of America’s basic tenets.

We need to empower our youth through education so they are equipped to carry forward the American legacy, but with civics disappearing from the schools, who will teach them about the law and the true meaning of our democracy? In this state, the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) has stepped up to the plate with its Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP.) Today, CLREP functions as a primary resource for law-related education in Maryland schools, teaching young people about the law.

CLREP, with its cadre of volunteer lawyers and judges, educates students and teachers about the law through curriculum development, publications, teacher training and numerous structured direct-service programs like the High School Statewide Mock Trial Competition, Teen Court, the Law Links Law Firm/Student Summer Internship, Conflict and Peer Conflict Mediation Resolution, mentoring programs and lawyer classroom visits.

These volunteers teach the fundamentals of the law and make the legal concepts understandable in an educational and entertaining way. CLREP brings the law to life, showing young people how the law plays an integral role in their lives. MSBA’s volunteer lawyers and judges try to cultivate an understanding and deeper appreciation of our democracy, legal traditions and rule of law in youth.

Law education empowers youth. Volunteer lawyers and judges give this basic knowledge and understanding to youth so that, when they become the forefathers, they will be able to pass on the tools to safeguard our democracy and protect our freedom to the next generation. That is why today, on Law Day, we salute the volunteers lawyers and judges who are empowering our next generation to our American legacy.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May  2007