Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

The main difference between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is that civil rights focus on granting equality to individuals so as to avoid discrimination while civil liberties involve basic human rights without any specification.

Civil rights and civil liberties are terms that are often used as synonyms, but the terms have very distinct differences. Civil Rights refer to a set of rights or laws granted by the government that protects the citizens from discrimination to grant social equality and equal protection under the law. Civil Liberties refer to a set of laws where person’s rights to be subject only to laws established for the good of the community.

Key Areas Covered

1. What are Civil Rights
     – Definition, Characteristics
2. What are Civil Liberties
     – Definition, Characteristics
3. What are the Similarities Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
    – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Constituion, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Law, Legislature, Rights

Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties - Comparison Summary

What are Civil Rights?

Civil rights refer to a set of rights granted by the government to protect its citizens by guaranteeing social equality and equal protection under the law. Thus, it emphasizes on avoiding discrimination to individuals irrespective of their social status, gender, race, religion and other personality traits.

Accordingly, from a legal perspective, civil rights can be defined as ‘an expansive and significant set of rights that are designed to protect individuals from unfair treatment; the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment (and to be free from being discriminated).’

Therefore, Civil rights concern the basic right to be free from unequal treatment for people who were traditionally discriminated against on the basis of some group characteristics (race, gender, disability, etc.) and to grant them equal rights in settings such as employment, education, housing, and access to public facilities. In brief, it is the rights of every citizen to enjoy the political and social freedom and equality.

Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Figure 1: Civil Rights March in 1963

The federal government establishes most civil rights laws via federal legislation or case law such as from the particular Acts namely; Age Discrimination Act, Civil Rights Act, Fair Housing Act etc. Moreover, Civil rights are an essential component of democracy. Thus they are secured by positive government action, often in the form of legislation.

Some well-known civil rights are;

  • Right to vote
  • Right to a fair trial
  • Right to education
  • Right to use public facilities

What are Civil Liberties?

Civil liberties are the basic human rights granted by the state to its citizens without any further specialty. Civil liberties highlight the individual’s state of being subject only to laws established for the good of the community, especially about freedom of action and speech.

Main Difference - Civil Rights vs Civil Liberties

Figure 02: Civil Liberties – Freedom of Speech

Civil liberties concern basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed – either explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, or interpreted or inferred through the years by legislatures or the courts.

These civil liberties include;

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of knowledge
  • Freedom of movement
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from torture
  • Freedom of press etc.

Even though at a glance, both these rights appear to address the same issues, the way to distinguish between these two is by looking at what right and whose right is affected. As an example, discriminating someone from enjoying a public facility based on that person’s race or gender is a civil rights issue, not a civil liberties issue.

Similarity Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

  • Both kinds of rights emphasize providing protection and equity to the life of citizens.

Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Definition

Civil Rights refer to a set of rights or laws granted by the government that protects the citizens from discrimination to grant social equality and equal protection under the law.  Civil Liberties refer to a set of laws where person’s rights to be subject only to laws established for the good of the community.

Imposement

Civil Rights are imposed by the legislature while civil liberties are imposed by the constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Specification

Civil rights specify the social and political equality to avoid social discrimination. Civil liberties, on the other hand, focus on the basic human rights. Hence, there is no specification for one particular thing.

Conclusion

The two terms civil rights and civil liberties are often used interchangeably by many, which is wrong. Nevertheless, both Civil rights and Civil liberties are sets of rights enjoyed by the citizens of a state. Unlike civil rights that specify on highlighting to impose rights in order to avoid unwanted discrimination, civil liberties are the general rights any individual can enjoy as a citizen of a country. This is the difference between civil rights and civil liberties.

Reference:

1.“What Are Civil Rights?” Findlaw, Available here.
2. Hamlin, Rebecca. “Civil Rights.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Sept. 2017, Available here.
3. “What Are Civil Rights?” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Available here.
4. “Civil Liberty.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 11 Aug. 2016, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Photograph of the Civil Rights March on Washington, 08/28/1963″ by The U.S. National Archives (No known copyright restrictions) via Flickr
2. “”FREE SPEECH*”” by Newtown grafitti (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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