Last Monday, the ACLU of Maine visited Freeport High School with a team of lawyers and ACLU of Maine staffers to hold an all-day student conference on the Bill of Rights. Four days later, we went to Portland High School to lead a “Know Your Rights” presentation to a criminal justice class. And today and tomorrow we’re in Newport, leading seven different workshops at Nokomis High School about the importance of the Constitution and the relevance it has to young people today. It’s a rewarding and exciting way to wrap up what has been a busy year for our public education program.

This school year, the ACLU of Maine has led more than 100 workshops at high schools all around the state, including four different all-day student conferences. We’ve covered critical topics such as free speech, search and seizure, privacy, equal protection, and much more. Thirty-four different schools were involved in our education program – representing thirteen of Maine’s sixteen counties – and we taught more than 1,300 students over the course of the year.

The reaction to our workshops has been great, but at times it’s distressing that students aren’t more aware of their rights to begin with. It is essential that we educate young people about the rights they are guaranteed under the Constitution, and to make sure that they have an opportunity to ask questions and clarify any misunderstandings they may have. They are, after all, students. If they aren’t taught about their rights now, when will they be?

One of the points we stress repeatedly to these students is that many of their most fundamental constitutional rights are meaningless if not exercised. What good is the Fourth Amendment if you’re asked to consent to a warrantless search and haven’t been taught that you have the right to say “no”? What good is the First Amendment if you remain silent out of a misguided fear that the government (or your school) will censor you?

We are immensely thankful to the dozens of volunteers who have helped lead workshops this year – from ACLU of Maine board members, to attorneys on our legal panel, to college professors and former teachers who still want to make a difference. Next year we’ll be back at it again, looking to reach even more schools and talk to an even greater number of students. In addition to our all-day student conferences, we’ll be visiting classrooms all around the state – so if you want us to talk to your school, just send us an e-mail. We’re happy to go anywhere in Maine where students are interested in learning about the Constitution and their rights.