Definition[edit | edit source]

Civil liberties are

fundamental individual rights such as freedom of speech, press, or religion; due process of law; and other limitations on the power of the government to restrain or dictate the actions of individuals. They are the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights — the first ten Amendments — to the Constitution of the United States. Civil liberties offer protection to individuals from improper government action and arbitrary governmental interference. . . .[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Common civil liberties include freedom of speech, press, association and religion; due process of law; the right to jury trial; and other limitations on the power of the government to restrain or dictate the actions of individuals. Civil liberties offer protection to individuals from improper government action and arbitrary governmental interference in relation to the specific freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The formal concept of civil liberties dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, which in turn was based on pre-existing documents.

Key civil liberties — freedom of expression, freedom of assembly — are public functions. Civil liberties provide the ability to speak, publish and assemble and to challenge rulers. Their roots are in pre-industrial societies. . . . The intent of civil liberties it to promote free public discourse, engagement among the polity, and allow for challenges to leaders and policies. Civil liberties make unlawful the use by the state of coercive measure designed to block or distort this public discourse. If a state can lawfully engage in coercion against political acts, there are no civil liberties. They exist if a person can freely express opposition to government policies without fear of retribution and even work to displace the existing rulers.

The chief risk to civil liberties lies in the use of coercive acts to suppress them.[2]

Republics such as the United States have a Constitution, a Bill of Rights and similar constitutional documents that enumerate and seek to guarantee civil liberties.

It might be said that the protection of civil liberties is a key responsibility of all citizens of free states, as distinct from authoritarian states.

The existence of some claimed civil liberties is a matter of dispute, as are the extent of most civil liberties. Controversial examples include reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, and the right to keep and bear arms. Whether the existence of victimless crimes infringes upon civil liberties is a matter of dispute. Another matter of debate is the suspension or alteration of certain civil liberties in times of war or state of emergency, including whether and to what extent this should occur.

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]


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