Civil Rights. Although the Declaration of Independence declared that “All men are created equal,” the 1787 Constitution had little to say about equality, at least as the concept is understood today.
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Although the Declaration of Independence declared that “All men are created equal,” the 1787 Constitution had little to say about equality, at least as the concept is understood today.
Civil rights are rights related to the duties of citizenship and the opportunities for participation in civic life that the government is obliged to protect. These rights are based on the expectation of equality under the law.
Civil rights differ from civil liberties in that while government is the only authority that could suppress liberties, for example by suppressing freedom of speech or forbidding a certain religious belief, both government and individuals have the capacity to engage in discriminationby treating people unequally: the government through laws that discriminate and individuals or businesses through actions that discriminate.
The government can take three different roles when it comes to civil rights.
The Founders were not much concerned with equality as it is understood today.
Civil War Amendments
- Allowed territories captured in the Mexican War to decide for themselves whether to be free or slave and denied alleged fugitive slaves the right to a jury trial.
- Undid the Missouri Compromise by allowing each territory to vote as to whether to allow slavery or not
- No black—slave or free—could be an American citizen, and thus could not sue in a federal court.
- Blacks were “beings of an inferior order” who had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
- The Declaration’s statement that “all men are created equal” did not include those of African heritage.
In 1846 Dred Scott, a black slave pictured here with his family, sued for his freedom, claiming that since his owner had taken him to a free territory, he should be free.
The Supreme Court said no, and went further to say that Scott, as an African American, had no standing to sue, and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in any territory. The 1857 ruling pleased southerners but infuriated northerners.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end discrimination.
Founded by Confederate veterans in 1866, the Klan was a terrorist organization aimed at restoring white supremacy.
Reconstruction ends in 1876 and the South is no longer under military occupation.
Despite the 15th Amendment, states denied freed men the right to vote through a variety of laws.
Jim Crow laws enforced segregation of whites and blacks in all public places.
Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution made any provision for women’s rights. Rather, the states continued the English policy of coverture.
Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, women found themselves restricted by law and discriminated against in a variety of areas.
First introduced in 1921 by Alice Paul, and passed by Congress in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) said:
“Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Brown II (1955)
Civil Rights Act of 1957
Civil Rights Act of 1960
Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Also known as Miscegenation Laws, banned the marriage of and sometimes sexual relations between people of different races.
Even after the passage of Civil Rights laws, minorities and women continued to face discrimination in hiring and in access to educational institutions. In an attempt to redress these historical wrongs, the government created programs known as Affirmative Action.
Because the government requires that public educational institutions and businesses seeking government contracts conform to affirmative action programs, some believed that this meant the government required them to employ/admit a certain number or “quota” of women and minorities.
The Stonewall riots became the signature event of a growing gay rights movement. Activists soon formed the Gay Liberation Front, which established branch organizations around the world.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
Members of the LGBT community are not protected under the 1964 civil rights acts.
- Extend federal employment discrimination protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Prohibit public and private employers, and labor unions from using an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion or compensation .
- Provide for the same procedures, and similar, but somewhat more limited, remedies as are permitted under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Applies to Congress and the federal government, as well as employees of state and local governments
The use by police of certain racial, ethnic, or religious characteristics in determining whom to investigate for particular kinds of crimes, has become controversial because evidence has mounted that profiling entails unequal treatment under the law.
Voting rights for felons vary greatly from state to state, leaving some to conclude that inequality still exists within voting rights.
The Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause prohibits states from denying to any person—in other words, not just citizens—equal protection under the law.
The problem of discrimination on account of sex can take many forms, and one of the most prevalent in the workplace is sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, true pay equity has not been achieved in the American workplace.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.