Civil rights

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					                                 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
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
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
         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
(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.