Civil liberties in the United States
Civil liberties in the United States are certain inalienable rights retained by (as opposed to privileges granted to) citizens of the United States under the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted and clarified by the Supreme Court of the United States and lower federal courts. Civil liberties are simply defined as individual legal and constitutional protections from entities more powerful than an individual, for example, parts of the government, other individuals, or corporations. The liberties explicitly defined, make up the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to privacy. There are also many liberties of people not defined in the Constitution, as stated in the Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The extent of civil liberties and the periphery of the population of the United States who had access to these liberties has expanded over time. For example, the Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to determine who was eligible. In the early history of the U.S., most states allowed only white male adult property owners to vote (about 6% of the population). The 'Three-Fifths Compromise' allowed the southern slaveholders to consolidate power and maintain slavery in America for eighty years after the ratification of the Constitution. And the Bill of Rights had little impact on judgements by the courts for the first 130 years after ratification.
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is a civil liberty protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791.
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This civil liberty grants all United States citizens the right to express themselves and enjoy the expression of others without interference of the government. This freedom of expression is often tested and can be the center of controversy because of how it is interpreted. The courts have recognized the Bill of Rights as having the intention of rights of privacy and the separation of church and state, even though it is not clearly stated. It is also thought that the amendment refers only to government interference, which leads to individual corporations and businesses violating these freedoms.
The following types of speech are not protected constitutionally: defamation or false statements, child pornography, obscenity, damaging the national security interests, verbal acts, and fighting words. Because these categories fall outside of the First Amendment privileges, the courts can legally restrict or criminalize any expressive act within them. Other expressions, including threat of bodily harm or publicizing illegal activity, may also be ruled illegal.
Right to bear arms
The right of the people to keep and bear arms is assured by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:
- A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
This amendment was legally controversial until a Supreme Court case in 2008. In the District of Columbia v. Heller case, the Second Amendment and its relation to gun control laws in the District of Columbia were evaluated by the Supreme Court for the first time in 70 years. The court decided that the Second Amendment did not grant the right to keep and bear arms solely to a military force, but to private citizens as well. The Court held that "[t]he Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home" -District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).
The concept of sexual freedom includes a broad range of different rights that are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of sexual freedom has sprung more from the popular opinion of society in more recent years, and has had very little Constitutional backing. The following liberties are included under sexual freedom: sexual expression, sexual choices, sexual education, reproductive justice, and sexual health. Sexual freedom in general is considered an implied procedure, and is not mentioned in the Constitution.
Sexual freedoms include the freedom to have consensual sex with whomever a person chooses, at any time, for any reason, provided the person is of the age of majority. Marriage is not required, nor are there any requirements as to the gender or number of people you have sex with. Sexual freedom includes the freedom to have private consensual homosexual sex (Lawrence v. Texas).
Equal protection prevents the government from creating laws that are discriminatory in application or effect.
- "Expansion of Rights and Liberties - The Right of Suffrage". Online Exhibit: The Charters of Freedom. National Archives. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
- Murrin, John M.; Johnson, Paul E.; McPherson, James M.; Fahs, Alice; Gerstle, Gary (2012). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People (6th ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. p. 296. ISBN 9780495904991.
- Janda, Kenneth; Berry, Jeffrey M.; Goldman, Jerry (2008). The challenge of democracy : government in America (9. ed., update ed.). Houghton Mifflin. p. 207. ISBN 9780618990948.
- "We Hold These Truths to be Self-evident;" An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism & slavery in America Kenneth N. Addison; Introduction P. xxii
- "The Bill Of Rights: A Brief History". ACLU. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).
- Alexander, Keith L. Lawsuit Seeks Right to Carry Concealed Weapons in the District. Www.washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU.org. n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2009.
- FindLaw. First Amendment - Religion and Expression. FindLaw for Legal Professionals. FindLaw, 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- Gordon, Jesse. Civil Liberties vs. Civil Rights. OnTheIssues.org. Ed. Jesse Gordon. Jesse Gordon, 3 Aug. 2000. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- Scalia, Antonin. District of Columbia v. Heller. Oyez.org. The US Supreme Court Media, June 2008. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.