Civil rights Civil rights are those personal and property rights recognized by governments and guaranteed by constitutions and laws. Although these rights were once conceived of as civil liberties, as limits placed on the government on behalf of individual liberty, government is no longer the sole concern of civil rights policy. Civil rights are rights that a nation’s inhabitants enjoy by law. A distinction is usually recognized between civil liberties and civil rights. The former refers to negative restraints upon government; civil rights pertain to positive acts of government designed to protect persons against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by government or individuals. In the United States civil rights are usually thought of in terms of the specific rights guaranteed in the Constitution: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to due process of law and to equal protection under the law. Recent legislation and court decisions have extended the zone of civil rights to include protection from arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by groups or individuals. Thus, in the broad sense, civil rights includes both rights against government and rights against individuals and groups. Rights are difficult to define. The BILL OF RIGHTS of the U.S. Constitution states certain basic rights, but ambiguity shrouds the meaning of almost every important phrase. In practice, rights are what courts, legislators, presidents, and governors say they are. The meaning of civil rights has changed greatly over the years. The original concept was rooted in 18th-century politics and philosophy. The decay of absolute monarchy led to efforts to check and limit royal power. In England the political philosopher John LOCKE gave shape to the new concept of individual natural rights against the state. Locke also believed that natural rights should be guaranteed against incursions by other persons as well as by the state. In America, Thomas JEFFERSON expanded the English and American views of civil rights. He emphasized the primacy of human happiness, by which he meant the opportunity of autonomous individuals to develop themselves to the fullest. He also advanced the concept of religious freedom and church-state separation as a key element of civil rights. Jefferson's thinking was embodied in the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1776) and the Statute of Religious Liberty (1785) of the state of Virginia. U.S. Constitutional Amendments The Bill of Rights, as the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States are called, was largely the brainchild of James MADISON. The amendments restricted the power of the new national government (but not of the states) in the name of freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition. In addition, citizens were assured against unreasonable or unwarranted intrusions by government officials into their homes or personal papers. Certain protections in criminal procedure were established, including the rights to a speedy trial, to a federal grand jury, to reasonable bail, and to confront one's accusers, as well as the right not to be placed twice in jeopardy of life or limb. None of these rights was absolute. Indeed, government restraints on the press and on speech were already well established. The end of slavery marked a new chapter in the development of civil rights in the United States. After the Civil War a number of constitutional amendments were proposed. Eventually, three were ratified by the states; these were designed primarily to protect the newly freed blacks and, less directly, other victims of discrimination. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (including peonage). The 14th Amendment extended American citizenship to all those persons born or naturalized in the United States. It contained far-reaching provisions forbidding any state to "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" or to deny any person "equal protection of the laws." The 15th Amendment extended the right of suffrage to blacks. The phrase "equal protection of the laws" became crucial in the 20th- century struggle against discrimination. The Civil Rights Cases were five cases decided by the Supreme Court in a single decision in 1883, involving the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1875. In that act, Congress had made it a misdemeanor to discriminate against any person in public conveyances, amusement places, and inns. Congress was seeking to implement the provisions of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, which extended equal rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including blacks and former slaves. The Court held that the 13th and 14th amendments did not allow Congress to legislate on private or social actions of citizens, such as innkeepers, because such legislation was in the sphere of state laws. The amendments merely prevented the states from discrimination in their own laws. "Until some state law has been passed, or some state action . . . . taken, adverse to the rights of citizens . . . . no legislation of the United States . . . . can be called into activity. . . ." Justice John Marshall HARLAN dissented, holding that the power of Congress was not so restricted. He wrote, "The rights which Congress, by the act of 1875, endeavored to secure and protect are legal, not social rights." Although the Supreme Court was slow to address the concept, it stands today as the major constitutional means for combating sex and race discrimination in America. In its decision in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS (1954), the Court declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional because separate facilities were inherently unequal. Recent U.S. Civil Rights Laws Rights have also been expanded through legislation. Since 1957, federal CIVIL RIGHTS ACTS and a VOTING RIGHTS ACT have been passed in an effort to guarantee voting rights, access to housing, and equal opportunity in employment. These have been accompanied by much state and local civil rights legislation. Civil Rights Movements Throughout recent history, people have organized to struggle for rights to which they felt entitled either by law or by a sense of justice. In the United States, black militancy spread in the 1950s and '60s through the activities of the CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY, the SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (see SNCC). These groups achieved major successes in arousing national opinion against segregation in the South and in stimulating the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. They failed, however, to eliminate some of the deep-rooted segregation patterns in urban areas of the country. First created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the United States Commission on Civil Rights evaluates federal laws and policies on equal rights and the effectiveness of equal opportunity programs. It has no enforcement authority, but it reports its findings and makes recommendations to the president and Congress. In addition, the Commission serves as a national clearinghouse for civil rights information and investigates specific denials of rights or opportunities on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap. Voting, education, employment, and housing are the major fact- finding areas. The successes of black militants encouraged women activists. While the struggle for suffrage had achieved voting rights for U.S. women under the 19th amendment in 1920, women now sought equal treatment in other social relationships such as employment and property rights. A similar movement gained momentum among U.S. homosexuals that aimed at winning legal safeguards against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Beginning in the 1970s, local governments increasingly enacted civil-rights protection for homosexuals, although the spread of AIDS (see AIDS) in the 1980s hampered antidiscrimination efforts. Civil Rights Acts The Civil Rights Acts passed by the U.S. Congress include Civil Rights Act of 1866 & 1870, gave blacks the rights to be treated as citizens in legal actions, particularly to sue and be sued and to own property. These rights were also guaranteed by the 14th AMENDMENT (1868) to the Constitution, which conferred citizenship on the former slaves; and the 15th AMENDMENT (1870), which declared it illegal to deprive any citizen of the franchise because of race. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 made it a crime to deny any citizen equal protection under the law by means of "force, intimidation or threat." Civil Rights Act of 1875 further guaranteed blacks the right to use public accommodations, but this legislation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883. By the mid-1880s, the political climate was such that the U.S. public had become indifferent to issues of social justice. This shift in attitude was exemplified by the Supreme Court decision in PLESSY V. FERGUSON (1896), which upheld the principle of "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites and legally instituted the system of segregation. The system endured until it was overturned by BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, KANSAS (1954), in which the Supreme Court declared that separate educational facilities were "inherently unequal." Under intense public pressure brought about by massive demonstrations during the CIVIL RIGHTS movement of 1957 to 1965, Congress enacted new legislation in an attempt to overcome local and state obstruction to the exercise of citizenship rights by blacks. These efforts culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in employment and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This major piece of legislation also banned discrimination in public accommodations connected with interstate commerce. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an epochal victory in the fight for African-American equality, and in the worldwide struggle for democracy. The law—which banned the southern practice of disenfranchising blacks through rigged literacy tests and other means—was passed following vicious attacks on its supporters. Police used clubs and cattle prods in Alabama to stop a march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Even federal troops sent to protect the 25,000 marchers couldn’t save a young woman who was killed by two Ku Klux Klansmen after driving some fellow protesters home to Selma from Montgomery. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 extended these guarantees to housing and real estate, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 eased the burden on workers suing to prove job discrimination.