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Handout and Transparency #1:
CIVIL LIBERTIES AND CIVIL RIGHTS


CIVIL LIBERTIES and CIVIL RIGHTS are the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and interpreted through laws passed by elected officials and decisions made by the Supreme Court.


There are three important ideas to keep in mind about the liberties and rights contained in the Constitution:

1. Constitutional rights are not and cannot always be absolute. There are limits to them.

For example, a person cannot publish lies that destroy another person's reputation and claim that the right to free speech protects him or her from a lawsuit.

2. The Constitution protects people from actions of the government, not from actions taken by private individuals or groups.

For example, while a police officer (as an agent of the government) cannot search your bedroom for drugs without a warrant, your mother can.

3. Many states and local governments have laws to protect civil liberties. These laws can be more protective of liberties and rights than the U.S. Constitution, but they may not be less protective. This idea is known as the "constitutional floor" because it represents the lowest possible protection. States and municipalities can go higher than the floor, but not lower.

For example, while the federal law and the U.S. Supreme Court have not specified that people who are homosexual are protected from housing and employment discrimination, many city governments have passed laws protecting them.


Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York Funded by New York Life