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Civil Rights and Social Justice: Home

What Are Civil Rights?

"What does the term 'civil rights' mean to the American public? As stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” sets the ideal of human rights due to all people. In regards to the rights of people in a society, those rights are defined by the government and conferred upon citizens of a nation or state. For the purposes of these discussions, civil rights are those rights guaranteed to individuals as citizens of a nation, irrespective of gender, race and ethnicity, physical/mental ability, or sexual preference. This roots the examination of civil rights in the process of people exercising those rights within a societal framework and the resistance to those individuals." - National Park Service

The following is from: Know Your Rights; A Guide to the United States Constitution with links from America’s Founding Documents.

Freedom of Religion

The First Amendment protects religious freedom in two ways: It forbids Congress from establishing a national religion and prohibits Congress from passing any law that impedes the freedom of Americans to practice their faith however they wish.

Freedom of Speech & Press

The First Amendment protects individual expression by guaranteeing the freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has broadly interpreted “speech” to include internet communication, art, music, clothing, and even “symbolic speech,” such as flag burning. Freedom of the press generally allows for newspapers, radio, television, and now many online sources to publish articles and express opinions representing the public dialogue without interference or constraint by the government.

Freedom to Petition & Assemble

The right of the people to assemble peaceably and petition the government for redress of grievances without fear of punishment or retribution was important to the founders of this country because England’s King George III and Parliament routinely refused to address grievances, including those concerning imposition of taxes without the consent of the people and the denial of trial by jury.

Right to Bear Arms

The Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms and to use firearms in traditionally lawful purposes.

Rights of the Accused

The Fourth Amendment safeguards citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In other words, a police officer, government agent, or soldier cannot search a private home or take personal property without good cause. This protection is not guaranteed worldwide. In some countries, government agents raid homes, hold trials, or imprison people without allowing them to answer the charges against them.

In several ways, the Fifth Amendment protects the rights of those accused of crimes. It states that people cannot be tried for a serious federal crime without an indictment or other formal charge being filed against them by a group of citizens known as a grand jury.

The Sixth Amendment provides additional due process rights to people accused of crimes. It requires that those accused be told the exact nature of the charges against them, and it guarantees them the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. The accused may also request to be tried by a judge alone.

The Eighth Amendment also forbids the imposition of excessive fines and protects against cruel and unusual punishment. While Americans continue to debate what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, it is generally agreed that the punishment should fit the crime.

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