The summer of 2000 may be remembered as the year when events like the National Rainbow Gathering and the Hell’s Angels Ride in Missoula brought the debate over civil liberties out of the courtrooms and into the streets. Now, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana, that debate has taken to the airwaves as well through an award-winning series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that explore the legal foundations of such constitutional guarantees as freedom of religion, free speech, personal privacy and the protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
The radio series, “These Are Your Constitutional Rights,” a collaboration of the ACLU of Montana, Yellowstone Public Radio, HearingVoices.com and KGLT radio in Bozeman, features 25 60-second radio spots, each of which highlight one landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1931 to 1997.
This year, the series was selected by the American Bar Association for honorable mention at its Silver Gavel Awards, given annually to media and arts projects from across the nation that foster public understanding of the law and the American legal system.
The ACLU of Montana earned a place among some very respectable competition. Among the six winners and seven honorable mentions were entries from “Dateline NBC,” the TV series, “Law and Order,” The Chicago Tribune, New Yorker magazine, The Los Angeles Times and Minnesota Public Radio. The PSAs have been airing on public and commercial radio stations throughout Montana and Wyoming since November.
Although some of the featured Supreme Court cases are familiar to many listeners, others are probably less well-known. For example, the series describes such cases as NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.(1937), which established the right of employees to organize for collective bargaining purposes, and Goldberg v. Kelly (1970), which granted welfare recipients the right to a hearing before losing their benefits.
Listeners may also be surprised at how recently some of these rulings were handed down. For example, it was not until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia that the Supreme Court struck down the ban on interracial marriage that still existed in 16 states. Likewise, it wasn’t until 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut that the Court legitimized the right of married couples to obtain legal birth control. And it wasn’t until 1985 that the high court ruled unconstitutional the use of lethal force by police when arresting unarmed, nonviolent criminals.
“The Supreme Court is where the buck stops. We wanted people to understand where their rights come from,” says Scott Crichton, executive director of the Montana ACLU. “What we were trying to get across is that people get their rights because they stand up and fight for them.”
Copies of the CD, including a classroom curriculum, can be purchased by calling 248-1086 or by visiting the Montana ACLU web site at www.aclumontana.org.