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Civil Liberty Versus Civil Rights

People often confuse civil liberties and civil rights as the same. After all, both are derived from the concept of natural rights and grant people certain privileges–but they are quite different. Civil liberties are basically your rights of life, which are given “liberty” from government action. Meanwhile, civil rights refer to freedom from discriminatory action based on some characteristic, which must be protected by the government to ensure equal treatment for all. It is important to know the distinctions between civil liberty and civil rights, especially when you are looking to go to court with an attorney for civil rights.

What Are Civil Liberties?

Civil liberties are basic freedoms or natural rights of life, liberty, and property. But what are basic human rights, anyway? These include the rights to:

  • Free speech
  • Privacy
  • Silence
  • Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures
  • Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • Fair trial
  • Marriage
  • Suffrage (Voting)
  • Property
  • Religion
  • Self-defense
  • Assembly

Civil liberties were designed to protect individuals from potentially abusive powers. In that vein, even the government has limited power over its implementation. For example, the government cannot restrict a person from practicing their religion.

What Are Civil Rights?

Civil rights refer to freedom from discrimination on the basis of a person’s protected characteristics (such as race, gender, and religion) in education, employment, access to public facilities, and housing. In this case, “discrimination” refers to the occurrence of unequal treatment, access, or protection of liberties among people who are similar.

Government action is ensured with civil rights as the electorate must employ positive actions to create equal conditions for all citizens. For example, gender discrimination in the workplace, such as the denial of a promotion based on sex, is against civil rights, and this issue can be brought to court.

Key Differences Between Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

Knowing the definition of civil liberties and civil rights makes it easier to determine their three key differences, which relate to their purpose, the government action (or lack thereof) in their implementation, and their documentation.


Civil liberties limit abusive powers (including the government) towards a person’s basic freedoms. Meanwhile, civil rights protect people from discrimination and deal with how an individual is treated regarding certain rights.

Government Action

Civil rights require positive government action to ensure equal treatment for all, while civil liberties limit government interference so that people can exercise their freedom.


The bulk of civil liberties is found in the Bill of Rights, as well as in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Some civil liberties are also protected in the body of the Constitution itself, such as the privilege of habeas corpus and prohibitions against bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and the impairment of contracts.

Civil rights, on the other hand, are largely tied to the civil rights clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state may “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

Get a Civil Rights Attorney to Help You

Protection of civil liberties and civil rights are fundamental to American values, but they are not always safeguarded in common situations. It is best to understand both concepts to determine if your freedom is somehow violated. In the chance that it is, it is best to consult the attorneys at Strom Law Firm to help you fight for your liberty.



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