Liberty Under Law
This year’s law day marks the 50th anniversary of ABA President Charles Rhyne’s proposal to celebrate the American legal system on a special day. In the following year, 1958, President Eisenhower established Law Day, and Congress soon officially dedicated May 1 as the day we celebrate our country’s allegiance to the rule of law and to constitutional democracy.
Today, Law Day remains an impetus and opportunity for educating the public on law-related issues encountered in daily life, as well as on rule of law principles. “Liberty Under Law: Empowering Youth, Assuring Democracy,” this year’s theme, provides a powerful platform to reach out and serve America’s communities, particularly our youth. Like the ABA’s Youth at Risk Initiative, this Law Day theme reminds us to embrace and engage young people in our democracy.
Since its launch last August, the Youth at Risk Initiative has helped the ABA and lawyers expand their outreach to teens who are at risk of entering the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Our Law Day message and materials support and broaden that outreach. We hope they inform and inspire all youths to serve in their communities. By empowering the next generation to actively participate in the civic life of our nation, we help assure the future of our democracy. The legal profession is uniquely positioned to help youths understand their rights and responsibilities in a free society, including service. Our message also helps educate the public about the realities young people face every day issues such as delinquency, violence, truancy and foster care.
Reaching All Ages
Scores of local, state, minority and specialty bar associations have already held or will conduct Law Day activities this year. They have used creative ways to reach youths of all ages. The Saginaw County Bar Association in Michigan drew upon this year’s theme to discuss students’ rights when they are bullied or teased at school. The multilevel outreach featured a coloring contest for prekindergarten through third-grade children, poster contests for older students and mock trials for high school students.
In California, the Marin County Bar Association used the Law Day message to address the increasing number of alcohol-related deaths among local teenagers. The bar association in collaboration with the courts, district attorney’s office, local community groups and schools held a symposium for students and their parents on a new teen drinking law. Law Day activities in Texas included the annual Teen Civic Leadership Academy, hosted by the Houston Young Lawyers Association.
The Web site for Law Day (abanet.org/publiced/lawday/2007) features more examples of programming from across the country. The Web site also provides resources to facilitate development and implementation of Law Day programs. Materials include sample press releases, public service announcements, lesson plans and talking points. The online resource catalog has products and gifts with the Law Day theme for youths and adults. In many jurisdictions, Law Day activities have expanded beyond one day and occur weeks before and after May 1 each year. Much of the Law Day information and materials can be used throughout the year. With our help, American youths can be empowered to fully explore the opportunities available to them in our democracy. Use the Law Day message to serve our youth all year long.
Long live our democracy, and long live a free and educated America under a just rule of law! Enjoy Law Day, and embrace our message: “Liberty Under Law: Empowering Youth, Assuring Democracy.”
The ninth in a series of columns that discuss how the ABA and individual lawyers serve our nation and the law.