Terms of Liberty
In many ways, the United States of America is defined by its dedication to the concept of liberty. The Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor, welcoming those who seek liberty. We say that millions have come to our shores seeking liberty. But what is liberty?
Liberty is the state of being free in thought and action from domination by others. Many terms are closely associated with liberty, such as freedom. The Declaration of Independence declares that liberty, along with life and the pursuit of happiness are the three basic rights of human beings.
Civil liberties are the individual rights that are protected from government interference and protected by government from private interference. A person has the civil liberty to think as he or she wishes about religion, for example. Any person can freely practice religion.
Civil rights are similar to civil liberties, but there are differences. Civil rights are the rights that a person holds because he or she is a citizen. Another way of saying civil rights would be to say citizenship rights. Persons residing within the United States could very well be entitled to certain civil liberties without holding certain civil rights, such as the right to vote.
Only a citizen has a legal right to vote. This is the law in all 50 states. Citizens have a civil right to travel freely within the United States, but not aliens. An alien, a person residing within the United States who is not a citizen, does not have the right to travel freely within the United States.
Because of the 1960s civil rights movement, many mistakenly believe that only those of African ancestry hold civil rights. Actually, the civil rights movement was an effort by certain U.S. citizens to win full citizenship rights.
Perhaps expressing it this way will make it easier to understand. With civil liberties, one is left free to conduct one’s own life. Civil rights entitle a person to take part in the political process,...