Civil liberties are protections for citizens against illegitimate encroachments on the part of the government. In many respects, the Constitution itself is a guarantee of civil liberties, because the Constitution creates a government of enumerated powers, which means that the government can only do the things that it is specifically empowered to do in that document. …
The term civil rights refers to a different set of concerns. Whereas civil liberties refers to the zone of non-interference citizens are guaranteed, civil rights is about what citizens are permitted to do in the political sphere. So while civil liberties refers to things that government must never do, civil rights require positive action on the part of the government. As was the case with civil liberties, civil rights flow from the American understanding of equality, but these sorts of rights require that the government must act in order to guarantee protections to its citizens. Whereas we typically look to the Bill of Rights to provide examples of civil liberties, we typically look to the 14th Amendment and related legislation to understand civil rights. The 14th Amendment, for example, guarantees citizenship and equal protection rights, and things like being free from employment discrimination based on race, gender, age, or disability are addressed by legislation passed by Congress.
- What is the difference between rights and liberties? How are they related?
- Why do you think race has been so important in the fight for civil rights in the United States? What made it so important?
- In events such as the March on Washington, participants used their civil liberties (the rights to free speech and to assembly) to put pressure on the government to advance civil rights. How important do you think mass events like the March were to the process?
- Today, on many college campuses, protests are used to drown out free speech by people the protesters object to. Do you see this as a positive development? Should speech ever be prohibited?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.
6 Mar. 2018, Marin Luther King [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.