Civil Rights

Civil rights are the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens and residents by legislation and by the Constitution. Civil rights protected by the Constitution include freedom of speech, press and assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places.

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution collectively are called the Bill of Rights.The Bill of Rights outlines the individual rights guaranteed to each American citizen, including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.These rights have been a cornerstone of the rule of law in the United States because they protect citizens' fundamental right to freedom and liberty.

The original draft of the U.S. Constitution, which outlined the way in which the U.S. government would function, did not specifically include a section that outlined the rights of citizens. In 1791, through the work of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and others, state delegates to the Constitutional Convention adopted the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These amendments confirmed citizens' freedoms of religion, speech and the press, the right to peacefully assemble or protest, the right to form "a well-regulated militia" and bear arms and the right to a fair trial.

The Bill of Rights also provides for freedom from having property taken away unlawfully, from incriminating oneself and from unreasonable search and seizure.

Today, the fundamental freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights represent the limits on what government can and cannot do to its citizens. These rights are referred to as civil liberties.And, although the scope of these protections still is debated in Supreme Court cases, civil liberties continue to be key components of the rule of law because they provide legal limits to government action and protect what the founders believed were Americans' fundamental rights.

- Abridged from State Dept. Publications and other U.S. government materials
Individual Rights
Web sites
Race and Civil Rights
Web sites
Disability Rights
Web sites
Landmark Legislation
Supreme Court Decisions
Embassy of the United States Home |  U.S. Citizen Services |  Visas |  Policy Issues |  State Department |  Contact Us
Privacy |  Webmaster