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Civil Rights and Liberties

See Also: An Encyclopedia of Civil Rights and Liberties

"In the United States, as in all of the world’s democracies, individuals possess certain basic rights. Indeed, the existence of individual rights is generally considered to be an essential element of democracy. While the catalog of individual rights under American democracy is quite extensive, they can be summarized along two underlying dimensions: (1) the right to be free from unreasonable interference in one’s beliefs, associations, and activities; and (2) the right to equal treatment by the government and the society. The former defines the realm of civil liberties; the latter encapsulates the subject of civil rights.. In a nutshell, then, civil liberties deal with individual freedom; civil rights involve equality. These basic values—freedom and equality—are fundamental not only in American politics, but in all democratic societies."

Adapted from Lyons and Scheb, American Government: Politics and Political Culture, 3rd edition, Chapter 4. 

Justice Robert Jackson“Government of limited power need not be anemic government. Assurance that rights are secure tends to diminish fear and jealousy of strong government, and by making us feel safe to live under it makes for its better support. Without promise of a limiting Bill of Rights it is doubtful if our Constitution could have mustered enough strength to enable its ratification. To enforce those rights today is not to choose weak government over strong government. It is only to adhere as a means of strength to individual freedom of mind in preference to officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end.”


 Justice Robert H. Jackson, writing for the Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Justice Thurgood Marshall"[H]istory makes clear that constitutional principles of equality, like constitutional principles of liberty, property, and due process, evolve over time; what once was a ‘natural’ and ‘self-evident’ ordering later comes to be seen as an artificial and invidious constraint on human potential and freedom.”

 Justice Thurgood Marshall, concurring in the judgment in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center (1985)