Civil Liberties vs Civil Rights
Civil liberties and civil rights are likely phrases you have heard before. Many Americans use both phrases interchangeably, but from a legal perspective, they mean different things. In this article, we will explain the difference between the two terms and what freedoms and protections they give American citizens.
Civil liberties protect citizens from government interference. Examples of civil liberties include:
- Religious freedom
- Right to privacy
Think of civil liberties like freedoms that the Constitution and Bill of Rights seek to protect. The government cannot interfere with these freedoms unless it is a matter of national safety.
If we look at civil liberties like the right to marry, the government and organizations cannot tell someone that they cannot get married to another person. But, the law does place restrictions on things like the legal age someone can get married and marrying relatives to prevent abusive marriages. These laws have to be examined by the Supreme Court to ensure they do not unnecessarily violate the civil liberties of citizens.
Civil rights protect people from discrimination from other people, organizations, or institutions. Examples of civil rights laws are:
- Civil Rights Act
Civil rights are the regulations and laws the government puts in place to ensure all citizens receive equal treatment. A violation of civil rights can only occur if there is discrimination based on a protected characteristic. The federal government has a list of protected characteristics, and some states also add protected characteristics to that list to provide additional civil rights protections.
For example, an employer could not fire an employee because they are disabled and do not want to have to accommodate their special needs. Similarly, they cannot refuse to hire someone because they belong to a certain race or religion. Both of these are examples of civil rights violations.
What Is the Difference Between Civil Liberties and Civil Rights?
Civil liberties provide all US citizens with rights that the government cannot violate. Civil rights provide minority groups with rights against discrimination. The government or a government agency are the only people who can violate civil liberties. Someone’s civil rights can only be violated if they are a member of a protected class.
For example, if an employee is fired for wearing their hijab at work, their civil rights have been violated, and they can sue for employment discrimination on the basis of religion. If an employee is fired because they wear hoop earrings, then there is no civil rights violation and they cannot claim employment discrimination.