What Good are Rights if You Don’t Know You Have Them?

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
November 2, 2006 12:00 am

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Maine Student Conference to Address Free Speech, Sex Ed and Equality

ORONO, ME — Do students shed their rights at the school house door? Maybe some of them. High school students from northern Maine will have chance to talk about what they can and can’t say or do, how much privacy they can expect, and what they can do to get involved and make change in their school, town or state when they gather for “Life, Liberty, &…,” a civil liberties conference for young people hosted by the Maine Civil Liberties Union. The event takes place Friday, November 3 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at the University of Maine at Orono Memorial Union Bangor Room.

“Constitutional rights do not start at age 18,” said Rachel Myers, field organizer for the MCLU. “Students need to know what rights they can legitimately claim and how to stand up for themselves when those rights are being violated.”

“Life, Liberty &…” is a follow-up to the MCLU’s southern Maine conference held in Portland last spring. This time, students from Bangor, Orono, Old Town and the surrounding towns will attend workshops on First Amendment rights, comprehensive sex education versus teaching abstinence only and the rights of lesbian and gay students. State Senator Elizabeth Schneider (D-Penobscot County) will address the entire group on civic engagement.

“In our state, there are groups like Heritage of Maine trying to bring abstinence-only education into the classroom, students are suspended for exercising their right to political speech, and young people are still turned away from the prom, and even the military, because of their sexual orientation,” said Myers. “We want to talk with young people about what they perceive their rights to be, and what their rights under the Constitution actually are. The best people to work for students’ rights are students.”

Tom Sturtevant of Maine Veterans for Peace will present “No Child Left Unrecruited,” a discussion of military recruitment in the schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, high schools are required to turn over the personal contact information of juniors and seniors to military recruiters or face losing federal funding. Students have the right to opt out of having their personal information shared, but are often unaware of that right.

“Whether a student is interested in joining the military or not, everyone deserves the chance to say ‘I do not want my school sharing my contact information with recruiters who are going to call me at my home,’” said Sturtevant. “All students need to know that they have a right to keep their personal information private.”

The event will start at 9:15 with a round of “Civil Liberties Bingo,” followed by break-out workshop sessions. The afternoon will include Senator Schneider’s address at 1:00, entertainment by the UMO Hip Hop Dance Club at 1:15 and Sturtevant’s presentation and question and answer period at 1:30.

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