The ACLU has publications to help you know your rights. • Photo by  Ted Mielczarek
The ACLU has publications to help you know your rights. • Photo by Ted Mielczarek

How do I get a permit for a march? Can a person with a felony conviction vote? Can a teacher search my kids or grandkid at school? The ACLU has answers for you.

The ACLU—short for the American Civil Liberties Union—is a non-profit advocacy group with a half-million members across the United States and more than 20,000 in Washington, and a state office in Seattle with over 30 full-time staff. It is devoted to defending people’s freedoms under the Bill of Rights, and to extending them to groups that have historically been denied their rights.

The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from unreasonable searches by government, the right to a fair trial, and equal treatment under the law for all people in the United States. But freedom doesn’t protect itself. Unless people stand up for their rights, the Bill of Rights can become just a piece of paper—praised by government officials but ignored whenever doing so suits their needs.

Standing up for your rights, of course, requires that you know what your rights are. To inform people, the ACLU provides free educational resources about rights in a wide range of areas. Here are some ACLU publications that you, or someone you know, may find useful.

Street Speech—Want to hold a march or a rally, or hand out leaflets for a political cause? This booklet outlines your rights to demonstrate, picket, leaflet, circulate petitions, and otherwise express your views in public. The general rule is that the government cannot limit your speech just because it disagrees with what you say, but it can have reasonable regulations for the time, place, and manner of your speech.

Voting Rights Restoration in Washington State—Does having a felony record disqualify a person from voting? Under Washington law, individuals convicted of felonies that have their right to vote automatically restored as soon as they have completed incarceration and any community custody required by the Department of Corrections. This brochure briefly explains the law and answers frequently asked questions.

What to Do If You Are Stopped by Police—Do you have you show your driver’s license when stopped while driving? Do you have to let police into your home? This wallet-sized card has legal information and practical tips on how to protect your rights in encounters with police. Remember: You have the right to remain silent and ask to see a lawyer. But don’t run or obstruct the police—you could get arrested even if otherwise innocent.

Student Rights and Responsibilities in the Digital Age—Can a public school punish a student for what he/she says on the Internet from a home computer? Or search a student’s cell phone? This booklet explains students’ rights to free speech and to privacy when using communications devices.

Guide to Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Washington—Immigration Considerations—Same-sex couples in Washington can now marry under state law. How does this right relate to a lesbian or gay person’s immigration status? This document looks at issues relevant to same-sex couples where one or both partners are not U.S. citizens.

Want to know more about your civil liberties? All these publications are available on the ACLU website at www.aclu-wa.org/resources. And if you can’t find the answer to a question about your rights, you can contact the ACLU Legal Intake and Referral Line on weekdays at (206) 624-2184.

Also to note in this election season: Thanks to a successful ACLU voting rights lawsuit, Yakima’s election system for city council has been changed to ensure that Latinos have a meaningful opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. With the primary results in, it is certain that for the first time a Latino candidate will be elected to the Yakima city council. Now the ACLU and allies are pushing for a state Voting Rights Act, so that unfair local election systems around the state which don’t enable all communities a fair chance to be represented may be changed.

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