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What are Civil Rights?

By T. Alaine
Updated May 17, 2024
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The phrase civil rights refers to a generalized body of personal liberties that are widely believed to be nonnegotiable. Accordingly, these rights are those that all human beings are entitled to regardless of whether they are written into law. Civil rights are primarily comprised of matters that affect a person’s ability to lead a happy, healthy life as a part of his or her society, free from discrimination, unwarranted persecution or intrusion from other people or organizations.

Generally, civil rights protect the ability to live according to a free but lawful lifestyle shaped by individual choices and expression. Identifying these rights can be difficult, because they can vary by country are complex issues with many possible implications in everyday life. Several rights, however, are so widely accepted that they are often considered universal. Free speech, the freedom to identify with a religious group and protection from discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, age, faith, sexual orientation or political preferences are common iterations of civil rights.

Acknowledging the existence of these rights is meant to protect people from persecution by their peers and to protect citizens from unreasonable government infringement on their personal lives. The right to freedom of speech is an example of how civil rights limit the intrusion of government agencies. If a group of citizens desires to hold a protest, they typically are allowed to do so nonviolently and within the confines of the law. In these cases, government agencies typically are not able to gatherings such as this, even if the protesters’ messages are inflammatory or anti-establishment.

Different countries have different ideas concerning civil rights. Some nations value certain rights more than others, and not every country possesses written, lawful descriptions of these rights and to whom they apply. There is, however, a widely accepted standard for these rights, which is expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which was adopted by the United Nations, proclaims that all human beings, without exception, are to be the recipients of civil rights.

Violations of civil rights are plentiful throughout history and still take place despite legislation mandating otherwise. In an effort to decrease such violations, many countries write descriptions of these rights into their laws. For example, the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution expressly describes the natural rights that must be unwaveringly protected for every citizen of the country. Many other countries have similar mandates, some recently written and some dating back to ancient civilizations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon282993 — On Aug 01, 2012

Why is it that black people only turn out when something is done against another black man? That seems really racist. Do african heritage americans only look out for their own agenda? I don't see that group of demonstrators turn out to end black on white crime. It's almost like white people, in their opinion, don't deserve their unity and support. It just seems that the social structure is much more implemented in the face of needs that black men just come together easier in these days to support a cause they are concerned with and it's a shame other ethnic groups don't get to share in their ethics.

By anon260065 — On Apr 09, 2012

I'm having a problem with the police harassing my son. He is 17 and has a low rider truck with 20-inch rims and every time I turn around they are pulling him over and searching him and his truck. They sit near my house and wait for him to pull out and pull him over every time I turn around. Of course, they never find anything in his truck. Is this harassment and can I do anything about it?

It is making my son scared to even leave the house and I feel it is mentally abusing him. What can I do?

By surfNturf — On Feb 06, 2011

Sunshine31- I wanted to add that this period also gave rise to the Black Panthers and more black only educational institutions as the black civil rights movement grew.

By sunshine31 — On Feb 04, 2011

Sunny27-I think that it was a shame that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated because he wanted peaceful change and not change along with widespread violence.

He wanted equality among all people and was truly an inspirational figure. It seems that at the time of the 1960’s in the civil rights movement there were two sides of the spectrum with respect to the approach of gaining additional rights.

There was the peaceful wing which was highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King’s effort of peaceful change and then there was the Malcom X wing of the movement that moved toward a more aggressive approach that included violence when necessary which was something Dr King would have never wanted.

By Sunny27 — On Feb 02, 2011

Suntan12- I think that Rosa Parks was a courageous woman and I just can’t believe how unjustly blacks were treated.

But at least additional changes came about from their protests.

Not only did President John F. Kennedy sign in to law the Civil Rights act of 1964, but President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which solidified the right to vote among blacks.

By suntan12 — On Feb 01, 2011

The civil rights movement really came about out of sheer inequities in the treatment of black people. The segregation movement which offered different schools and dining options for blacks as opposed to whites was a horrible time on our history.

Courageous people like Rosa Parks really planted the seeds of the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger along with the Montgomery Alabama bus boycotts forced change in a dramatic way and this gave blacks the courage to pursue more aggressive change in laws.

This sparked the beginning of protests that led to the abolishment of desegregation in the busing system by a Supreme Court ruling.

Freedom Rides also developed which were more intense in their protest as this was the start of the civil rights movement in the United States.

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