Civil rights refer to the rights that U.S. residents have to be and remain free from discrimination and unfair treatment in a variety of basic settings, such as housing, employment, education and public accommodation.
FindLaw explains that your civil rights come from numerous federal sources, including the following:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965
- The Fair Housing Act of 1968
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Age Discrimination Act of 1975
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Civil rights also sometimes come from the U.S. Supreme Court. One notable example is the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
State constitutions and legislatures also provide for state-specific civil rights. Often these mirror, but expand upon, existing federal laws.
Civil rights versus civil liberties
If you are like most people, you likely confuse civil rights with civil liberties. For instance, the Bill of Rights attached to the U.S. Constitution actually provides you and all other American residents with basic civil liberties established when this nation became a constitutional republic in 1789. Notable American civil liberties include the following:
- Freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly (First Amendment)
- Right to keep and bear arms (Second Amendment)
- Right to remain free from unreasonable government searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment)
- Right against self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment)
- Right to a speedy trial, a jury of one’s peers, and the assistance of counsel, all with regard to criminal prosecutions (Sixth Amendment)
- Right to remain free from excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments (Eighth Amendment)
Civil rights, on the other hand, generally revolve around protections for people who are members of a particular class, such as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, etc.