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Civil Liberties Guaranteed by the Constitution

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 16, 2016 10:13 AM

From the right to free speech and the right to vote to the right to a fair trial, our civil liberties are protected under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And beyond the enumerated rights in those documents, courts have protected other civil liberties like the right to privacy.

We often think of civil rights and civil liberties as interchangeable, but there can be distinctions between the two groups. Here's a look at civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and how they differ from civil rights.

Liberties v. Rights

Civil rights, as a legal concept, generally refers to the right to equal protection and equal treatment under the law, regardless of race, gender, religion, and other protected characteristics. Civil liberties are a bit more narrowly defined as rights and freedoms either explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, or interpreted through the years by courts and lawmakers.

For example, neither the Constitution nor the Bills of Rights say much about employment law, so, as an employee, a promotion is not a guaranteed civil liberty. However, if you are denied a promotion based on your race or gender alone, your civil rights would have been violated. It may help to think of civil liberties as protections against government action, and civil rights as actions the government has taken to ensure equal conditions and treatment for all citizens.

Civil Liberties

As the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights is our main source of civil liberties. Those listed civil liberties include:

  • The right to free speech, free exercise of religion, and to freely assemble.
  • The right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • The right to a speedy trial, by an impartial jury, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to an attorney.
  • The right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

Since then, the Fourteenth Amendment added the right to due process of law for all citizens, and applied these protections to states as well as the federal government. And courts have been tasked with delineating the legal boundaries of our civil liberties.

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