Tuesday, Oct. 24 - Civics - Individual Rights And Responsibilities

Objectives: Constitutional amendments have helped extend civil rights over the past 200 years.

Civil rights are considered to be the rights of citizens under the law. Civil liberties are the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights outlines many of these civil liberties – however at the beginning they only applied to white male property owners.

The first 10 amendments are the Bill of Rights.

In summary:

  1. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.
  2. Right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia.
  3. No quartering of soldiers.
  4. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
  5. Right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy.
  6. Rights of accused persons, e.g., right to a speedy and public trial.
  7. Right of trial by jury in civil cases.
  8. Freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments.
  9. Other rights of the people.
  10. Powers reserved to the states.

The First Amendment is considered one of the most important. It set up a separation between church and state (you couldn’t be forced to worship in a certain religion) and allowed freedom of religion. However, the freedom is not absolute. The government has set limits on what people can do in their religion – for example the federal government bans polygamy.

It also allows for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This is also not absolute – speech is not protected when it incites people to violence, promotes a public panic or contains slander (knowingly making false statements about someone that damages their reputation).

The First Amendment also guarantees people freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government. However, governments can set rules about when, where and how people can protest.


Civil Rights

After the Civil War, three amendments were written to recognize the rights of African Americans. The 13th Amendment ended slavery. And the 14th Amendment said any person born in the United States is a citizen and that all Americans have civil rights. However, these amendments didn’t extend the right to vote to African Americans. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment gave all male citizens the right to vote.

This is the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, which was the beginning of protests, court decisions and fights for the equality of people of color.

Despite the amendments, discrimination continued. In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was legal. The decision for “separate but equal” practices caused the rise of the Jim Crow laws.

Jim Crow laws separated Black and white people in public places – including schools, restaurants and buses. States passed laws that made voting more difficult for Black people, including poll taxes and literacy tests.

In 1953, Earl Warren became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Warren Court, which lasted until Warren’s retirements in 1969 tended to expand civil rights. One decision – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruled that segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment.



Women’s Rights

Many women were angry when the 15th Amendment did not give them the right to vote and the fight for women’s suffrage began. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. By 1915, 11 states had granted women the right to vote in state elections. In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote – women first voted for president in the 1920 election.

Women also faced other forms of discrimination. During World War II, many women took jobs outside the home as men were sent overseas. They were paid less than men or put in jobs that did not allow them to advance such as file clerks and sales clerks.

Married women also couldn’t get credit cards in their own name. Single women had difficulty getting credit. In the 1960s, single women could not get the birth control pill.

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act – this made it illegal to pay men and women differently for the same jobs.

In 1972, Congress passed an Equal Rights Amendment, which said that rights shall not be denied based on sex, but it was not ratified. The United States still does not have an Equal Rights Amendment.

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