It’s easy to see that the United States holds individual liberties in high esteem. The country has a global freedom score of 83/100, according to data from the Freedom House. Civil rights violations often trigger serious repercussions, such as hefty fines and prolonged imprisonment. Yet, they continue to be a pressing problem.
These rights date back to when American freedom was still in its infancy. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, spell out the basic civil rights guaranteed to every American.
Inspired by Thomas Jefferson and drafted by James Madison, the Bill was adopted in 1791, and proceeded to become the law of the land. It intended to assure the American people that the new government would not trample upon their liberties, unlike the previous English monarchy. It was impossible to ratify the Constitution of a democracy without one.
Every human deserves to have basic civil rights. As a civilian, you must recognize your civil rights to protect them effectively, or consult a civil rights attorney in NYC when they are violated. Let’s explore six freedoms that form the bedrock of American democracy.
1. The Right to Free Speech and Expression
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to speak and express themselves freely. This includes:
- The right to not speak at all
- The right to wear black armbands in protest
- The right to use symbolism
- The right to form and express opinions without intrusion
However, there are a few exceptions to this civil right. In other words, the First Amendment does not protect speech that contains:
- Derogatory words
- Defamatory statements (libel and slander)
- Child pornography
- Invitation to enact violence
- Plagiarism of copyrighted material
All things considered, in case you find that your civil right to speech and expression has been breached, you can consult a civil rights attorney to take appropriate legal action against the offender. If you’re in New York, a civil rights attorney from a reputable law firm will have the knowledge to guide you in the right direction.
2. The Right to a Fair Trial
There are several downsides to pretrial incarceration. Besides aggravating poor prison conditions and increasing the risk of maltreatment, pre-trial detention can negatively impact a defendant’s case. Unfortunately, around 30% of the world’s prison population consists of pretrial detainees who are yet to be convicted.
This is where the basic civil right to a fair trial comes in. Criminal defendants in the United States are entitled to a speedy public trial without unnecessary delay, as per the Sixth Amendment. Additionally, they also have:
- The right to a lawyer.
- The right to an unbiased jury (the jurors do not have a personal stake in the outcome).
- The right to know their accusers and the nature of the charges against them.
- Freedom from self-incrimination, meaning the defendant cannot be forced to testify against themselves in court.
- The right to due legal processes.
Fair trials minimize miscarriages of justice. They offer the accused a chance to present their side of the story, ensuring the jury sees the whole picture before arriving at a decision. So, in case you’re facing unlawful detention in New York, ask for a civil rights attorney in NYC as quickly as possible.
3. The Right to Free and Unperturbed Media
Freedom of the press is at the heart of every democracy. After all, it’s one of our basic civil rights. In fact, the United States ranked 44th in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
Free media serves as a watchdog for the people, investigating and questioning government decisions without fearing persecution. It bridges the gap between the leaders and the public, serving as an open platform for a frank exchange of ideas. In the absence of censorship, journalists can use their resources to ask the right questions, pursue the right leads, and research the right stories to shed light on hidden secrets.
Under the First Amendment, all American civilians have access to unperturbed media that is transparent and factual. It allows individuals to make informed decisions on significant civil and political matters. A free press serves no agenda: they fight for the truth, no matter the cost.
4. The Right to Vote Freely
Originally, U.S. civilians had to be at least 21 to vote. But during the 1960s, there was a widespread drive to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. This was partly due to the Vietnam War, which drafted young men between these ages to serve in the military.
Under substantial pressure, Congress consequently implemented the Voting Rights Act of 1970. Accordingly, all citizens aged 18 and above can vote in federal, state, and local elections. Furthermore, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment bans States from denying eligible voters (18 and above) their right to vote on account of age.
Thanks to this civil right, adult civilians can enjoy the privilege of choosing their leaders and contributing to the democratic process. Always remember to contact a New York civil rights attorney anytime you’re refused your right to vote in the city.
5. The Right to Practice Your Chosen Religion
Freedom to religion is one of your basic civil rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises complete religious liberty to civilians. Simply put, Congress cannot establish a national religion or enforce a religious doctrine upon you.
Also, as per the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, you’re free to worship as you deem fit, as long as it does not hurt public morals or ‘compelling’ government interest.
Violating an individual’s basic civil right to religion is entirely unconstitutional. It is best if you contact a civil rights lawyer if this happens. Or, you can get in touch with a civil rights law firm to learn more about how you can utilize this right in the future.
6. The Right to Silence
If you’ve heard the term ‘plead the Fifth’ mentioned without any context, you’re not alone. It refers to your right to silence. It’s your right to refuse to take questions from law enforcement or court officials because the answers might show you’re guilty of a crime. As one of the basic civil rights mentioned in the Fifth Amendment, it protects people from being compelled to provide testimony that could incriminate them.
Protect Your Rights with a Civil Rights Attorney in NYC
When it comes to civil rights, the United States has set golden standards for the world. Civil rights can help you live independently in a harmonious, equal, and fair society.
However, living in New York, there might be times when your civil rights are threatened by external forces. When this happens, you must remain calm and consult a New York civil rights attorney without delay. The attorney will look at your case with a clear, objective eye, and go the distance to ensure you get the justice you deserve.
It’s best if you enter a legal battle with a trained civil rights attorney in NYC on your side. They know the legal system well and will fight to protect your best interests in court, no questions asked.
In case you have more questions about your civil rights, feel free to contact our team at Bantle & Levy LLP. We’ll be happy to walk you through the intricacies of the United States legal system and answer all your queries. For more information, contact our civil rights lawyers.