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Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

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Civil Liberties

(And how they differ from civil rights)

"If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands, they must be made brighter in our own. If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free. If in other lands the eternal truths of the past are threatened by intolerance, we must provide a safe place for their perpetuation." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1938 (Isaacs 66)

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to be free from unreasonable searches of your home, the right to a fair trial, the right to marry, and the right to vote are all examples of Civil Liberties that every American is guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Fundamental individual rights protected by law against unwarranted governmental or other interference. Civil liberties generally refer more specifically to the protection of the individual's rights to form and express his or her own preferences or convictions and to act freely upon them in the private sphere without undue or intrusive interference by the government. "Only the government can violate your civil liberties"(Kennedy)

My textbook, America At Odds, defines Civil Rights as "The rights of all Americans to equal treatment under the law, as provided for by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution" (75). The Civil Rights Act, which was passed in 1964, protects people from private acts of discrimination in regards to housing, education, and employment.

The terms civil liberties and civil rights are similar in that they are vital factors in creating a democratic society. Because we are guaranteed these liberties and rights, we are in turn able to keep this democratic society in existence. Civil liberties and rights differ in how they need to be protected. Civil liberties need protection "from" the government. They have to be secure so that the government cannot invade them and take them away from any individual. Civil rights, on the other hand, need protection "by" the government so that they are not infringed upon. Civil liberties are basic freedoms granted to individuals in the Bill of Rights. Individual freedom can survive only under a system of law by which both the supreme and the governed are bound. Such a system of fundamental laws, Civil rights are constitutional guarantees, which mean they are granted to individuals with the body of the Constitution in the form of amendments. Many civil rights were granted after the Constitution was written, but civil liberties were included in the Constitution since their adoption in the Bill of Rights in 1791.

One of the main reasons that the Puritans sailed to America to was to escape religious persecution. They were actually being physically beaten because of their religious beliefs. America began with a government based on religious beliefs. It developed into a government, which condemned those who did not believe in the Puritan beliefs. For

example, one had to believe in the Puritan religion and attend church to vote and become a member of the Puritan society. This practice further developed into a situation in which you were beaten or killed if you did not believe in the Puritan religion, the exact reasons they had originally fled from England. It took a group of men to deduce what liberties were guaranteed and which were not, to avoid mistakes made by puritans and others in history. Men like Thomas Jefferson, who argued that the sole purpose of government was to protect our individual rights.

The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of government power, not the increase of it. --Woodrow Wilson. Civil Liberties evolved in the United States around 1776 with the conception of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In 1787, a new U.S. Constitution was established which limited the roles for the President and Congress, but did not yet grant significant power to the Supreme Court. In 1789, the U.S. Bill of Rights was enacted, to protect the natural rights of U.S. citizens from encroachment by the Congress of the U.S., but it is little more than a statement of principles because the Supreme Court had no power to strike down legislation. The first ten amendments to the constitution, the Bill of Rights, set forth our civil liberties. At this point the Bill of Rights applied mainly to the government and not to the individual states, which have their own, separate bills of rights (Dershowitz 205-211).

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religious exercise as well as separation of church and state.



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