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Civil Rights

Civil rights are personal rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and federal laws. They protect you from discrimination. The United States was founded on the idea that everyone should be free to live, work, and pursue happiness as they see fit. The authors of the Constitution created the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights and later amendments offer protections that form the basis of our civil liberty laws today.

This article offers an overview of the history of civil rights laws. It also discusses civil liberties, due process, and enforcement of civil rights protections.

Equal Protection and Discrimination: History

One of the most basic civil rights is equal protection under the law. This right stems from the Fourteenth Amendment. The 14th Amendment became law after the Civil War. Many newly freed people wished to work, own property, and build new lives. But many people refused to do business with formerly enslaved people. Also, local police often refused, based on race, to protect African Americans.

Congress passed the 14th Amendment in 1868 to ensure more equal rights for everyone. Although the amendment was only partially successful then, it has since grown to protect people of all races, national origins, and genders from discrimination by government authorities.

The federal government and many state governments have since developed other laws to prevent discrimination by private establishments. This is why employers can't make hiring or firing decisions based on protected categories like race, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation. Similarly, restaurants can't refuse to serve people on the basis of race or other protected factors.

Civil Liberties

The Bill of Rights, which consists of the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, protects civil liberties. Civil liberties protect you from government interference and overreach. A few of the most well-known are:

  • The Fourth Amendment's limit on law enforcement's ability to search your person or private property. Police must have a warrant or a good reason to believe you committed a crime before conducting a search or arresting you.
  • The Fifth Amendment's protection of your right to remain silent.
  • The Sixth Amendment's protection of your right to an attorney and a speedy trial.
  • The First Amendment's grant of the right to a free press, to free speech, to free assembly and association, to petition the government, to practice any religion, and to be free from religious indoctrination.

One of the strengths of civil liberties is that they belong to all in the United States. This generally includes those who have committed crimes. Prisoners still maintain fundamental constitutional rights to:

  • Privacy
  • Speech
  • Religion
  • Due process

But several rights and liberties may be limited while you're serving prison time. Even after you're released, some rights may be curtailed while you're on parole or if you've committed a serious offense.

Due Process and Enforcement of Civil Rights Violations

The unsung hero of the constitutional amendments is the right to due process. This right stems from both the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment. The right to due process means the government can't remove your right to life, liberty, or property without a proper hearing.

Because of the right to due process, Congress and state legislatures have created complaint processes in several government agencies designed to help you enforce your civil rights. For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) handles employment discrimination complaints. The Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces federal laws governing discrimination.

Need Help? Contact a Civil Rights Attorney

Are you experiencing employment discrimination or some other form of unlawful discrimination, such as health care or housing discrimination? Ensure your right to equal protection of the laws.

Contact a civil rights attorney today if you believe someone has violated your civil rights. An attorney can help you navigate state laws and other civil rights legislation. Whether you live in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere, you're entitled to basic human rights. Racial segregation and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, for instance, is illegal.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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