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
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
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
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