liberties vs rights

What is the difference Between Civil Liberties and Civil Rights?


When you look at the words, there is a tendency for you to think they mean the same thing. Sometimes, people used them synonymously, but there is a difference between civil rights and civil liberties.

Emblem of civil liberties

As humans, there are certain privileges you enjoy by existence; they come in the form of liberties or rights. Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, 1776 said

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Wars have been fought all over the world to secure and preserve societies that let this ideology of equality bloom.

What are civil rights?

Civil rights are freedoms a person enjoys that protects against discrimination hinged on personal characteristics like gender, disability or race, color, national origin, and others. It is concerned with the application of civil liberty. Meaning, it is about how you treat individuals regarding fundamental freedoms that accrue to the person.

Civil rights cuts across different settings like school, home, offices, public spaces, etc. There is a more extensive range of civil rights, and most of them derive power from case laws that are sometimes made into legislation. The endgame here is to protect persons from discrimination by the government and other individuals stemming from the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment.

Brief History of Civil Rights

Initially, the Civil Rights Movement was a term coined to describe the fight for the equality of African American society. Over time, this term as evolved as a description for the advancement of equality for every human being no matter the age, sex, skin colure, race, religion, etc.


Lyndon Johnson signing Civil Rights Act, July 2, 1964

Civil rights gain their power from legislation made to enforce and concretize these ideologies. Here are some laws that help to ensure civil rights protections.

  • Age Discrimination Act of 1975
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • The rehabilitation act of 1973 (Section 504)

With the LGBTQ community become more popular and accepted, countries are also creating a law that protects the rights of such people. The American system of government allows the states, municipalities, and cities to make local laws that protect civil liberties.

Civil rights are empowered by case law with established judgment in a related case. i.e. what the court says. The decisions serve as landmarks and references for future decisions. Sometimes the decisions of the court become rules and regulations entrenched in the constitution.

What are civil liberties?

Civil Liberties are basic human freedoms that are entrenched in law of the country and guaranteed by the constitution, Bill of rights and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth amendment

Civil liberty - Freedom of privacy

In the United States, the basic Civil Liberties, a person, enjoys is entrenched in the First amendment. Although over the years there has been a lot of changes, reforms, additions, and modification of the legislation

  • Free speech/ Expression
  • Freedom of religion
  • Press Freedom
  • Freedom of Assembly
  • Liberty to petition the government.

Other Civil Liberties include Right to:

  • Privacy
  • Remain silent
  • Be free from unreasonable searches
  • A fair trial
  • Marriage
  • Vote

Like Civil rights, the excise of these liberties in entrenched in the laws of the land.

Liberties vs. Rights

The difference between civil liberties and civil rights lies in the concept of discrimination. Civil liberties are concerned with elementary human freedoms, while civil rights are concerned with how people get to enjoy individual rights.

Rights and Liberties are differentiated based on who is affected and what is affected. Let’s take a simple case scenario to explain. As humans, you enjoy the civil liberty of the right to marry. But if the court clerk denies you a marriage license, then your civil liberties have been violated. However, if it concerns denying a marriage license from only LGBT couples, then you have a civil rights problem.

If a well-deserved promotion at work passes over you because you are female, this is a case of unlawful employment discrimination. Discrimination for being from a different race, or some disability, is a civil rights violation case. But if you don ‘t get a promotion because you don’t merit it or you haven’t earned it, then no harm has been done, and it is not a civil liberty case.

Though both terms are different, they are used interchangeably in different contexts. Settings and circumstances are what determines if your situation is a civil liberty matter or a civil rights matter. You should know that resolving conflict in such matters is the responsibility of the court

The presence of structured governments makes the existence of civil liberties and rights thrive unhindered. Nevertheless, there are different levels of the liberties enjoyed in different countries. Yes, there are universal rights and freedom you enjoy for merely being human, you have to know what law applies in your country, so you don’t get in trouble.

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