Government » American Civil Liberties and Rights » What Are Civil Liberties?

What Are Civil Liberties?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define civil liberties and civil rights
  • Describe the origin of civil liberties in the U.S. context
  • Identify the key positions on civil liberties taken at the Constitutional Convention
  • Explain the Civil War origin of concern that the states should respect civil liberties

The U.S. Constitution—in particular, the first ten amendments that form the Bill of Rights—protects the freedoms and rights of individuals. It does not limit this protection just to citizens or adults; instead, in most cases, the Constitution simply refers to “persons,” which over time has grown to mean that even children, visitors from other countries, and immigrants—permanent or temporary, legal or undocumented—enjoy the same freedoms when they are in the United States or its territories as adult citizens do.

So, whether you are a Japanese tourist visiting Disney World or someone who has stayed beyond the limit of days allowed on your visa, you do not sacrifice your liberties. In everyday conversation, we tend to treat freedoms, liberties, and rights as being effectively the same thing—similar to how separation of powers and checks and balances are often used as if they are interchangeable, when in fact they are distinct concepts.

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