By Amy Cannata, Communications Director, ACLU of Montana

As communications director of the ACLU of Montana, I spend a lot of time on public education. It's essential that people understand their rights, how they are being whittled away and what can be done to protect them.

It's especially gratifying to teach young people that they have rights and they CAN make a difference. I recently had that opportunity when I spoke to students at Sussex School in Missoula. (The pictures here are of thank you notes from some of those students.)

As a child, it's easy to feel powerless. Your parents tell you what to do. Your teachers tell you what to do. Coaches, counselors... But children do have rights -- very important rights.

On Dec. 1 we will be honoring one Montana student who stood up for her rights and the rights of her fellow classmates. Barrie Sue Sugarman organized a free speech demonstration at Flathead High School in Kalispell when administrators told a friend of hers that she had to cover-up or change out of a shirt saying "Legalize Gay" or go home.


Barrie Sue knew that the case Tinker v. Des Moines established the free speech rights of students when the Supreme Court ruled that students could not be prohibited from wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. So she and fellow students wore T-shirts to school to protest the administration's actions the previous week. On the front they bore a variety of slogans. On the back they said, "T-Shirts for Tinker."

We're giving Barrie Sue a Jeannette Rankin Civil Liberties Award (named for the first woman to serve in Congress and the ACLU's first vice president -- Montana's Jeannette Rankin) to honor her dedication to civil liberties. We will also be honoring Planned Parenthood of Montana at the ceremony in Missoula. Please join us.

a privilege to teach students like those at Sussex School about how student like them have fought for and continue to fight for their rights.

Mary Beth Tinker took a stand for free speech.

Long Island high school student Steven Pico took a case against book banning to the Supreme Court and won in 1982.

And little Linda Brown was the girl who integrated America's public schools when she won the right to attend the previously "whites-only" school in her neighborhood.

Here's to all students and to their civil liberties.