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How are civil rights and civil liberties different?

The terms civil rights and civil liberties are often used interchangeably; however, they are two very different concepts. For example, civil rights are granted to individuals via the federal government, through case law and various civil rights laws. Civil liberties on the other hand are freedoms afforded to individuals by way of the constitution.

Civil rights are granted through various civil rights acts and laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. These laws provide the right to be free of unequal treatment based on disability status, gender, race, national origin, religion and other characteristics as it applies to employment, housing, education, access to public places and other areas of life. Civil rights laws provide other protections as well.

Civil liberties are the basic freedoms afforded to individuals through the United States Constitution. These rights are either directly written in the Bill of Rights, or they have been interpreted by the U.S. court system and legislature. Basic civil liberties include:

  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to marry
  • The right to vote
  • The right to be protected from unreasonable searches of your residence and person
  • The right to remain silent when police are asking you questions
  • The right to freedom of speech
  • The right to privacy

It's through a combination of civil liberties and civil rights that United States residents have come to enjoy the free society that our nation represents. However, this does not mean that everyone's rights and freedoms are always being honored. If your civil rights or civil liberties have been violated, you may be able to pursue restitution and justice in court.

Source: FindLaw, "Civil Rights vs. Civil Liberties," accessed Nov. 10, 2017

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