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.
As a civilian, you must recognize your civil rights to protect them effectively. Let’s explore five 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. Attorneys from reputable civil rights law firms will have the knowledge and expertise 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 civil right to 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, ask for a civil rights lawyer as quickly as possible.
3. The Right to Free and Unperturbed Media
Freedom of the press is at the heart of every democracy. 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
Back in the day, 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 civil rights attorney anytime you’re refused your right to vote.
5. The Right to Practice Your Chosen Religion
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 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.
Protect Your Rights with a Civil Rights Attorney
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. 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 today!