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Last Change: 2019-11-2
Civil rights, also civil liberties, are rights that each individual possesses. Those rights are recognized by the Constitution and the Uniting Amendment. Civil rights include the right to be treated fairly and equally under the law and to be able to participate in government and society without discrimination based on things that are beyond an individual's control, such as race, sex or beliefs.
The Uniting Amendment follows the philosophy of the original founders, i.e., respect for liberty and justice. However, our founders didn't fully implement that ideal in a way that included everyone within that umbrella of justice and the country has been continually working to correct that ever since. Events such as the Civil War; the Reconstruction Amendments; women's suffrage; the 23rd, 24th, and 26th Amendments; the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and other efforts have contributed to the progress we've made toward liberty and justice for all. Now the Uniting Amendment is expanding civil rights and liberties even further.
How are civil liberties derived from natural rights?
Our original founders stated that our unalienable rights were "self evident." They had a sense, as we all do, that the desire for life and liberty is universal. But where does that desire for freedom originate? The founders didn't know then, but now we do.
The Declaration of Independence was written nearly 100 years before Darwin wrote his On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin's discovery of natural selection provides a basis for understanding where our rights come from. The underlying philosophy that preserves our rights is the recognition that our creator and nature have created everyone to be autonomous so we can freely make the choices that facilitate our survival and propagation. The specific mechanism by which those choices are made is through our pursuit of happiness.
Sentient animals, like humans, make choices that we feel will most likely bring about our happiness and result is a prosperous life. Our natural drive to pursue happiness is what makes us succeed and thrive, and those of us who thrive can pass that trait on to our progeny. Natural selection has selected for our autonomy. We are naturally made to be free – to be able to do whatever we want in order to be happy, to thrive, and to pass that on to our posterity. This is why liberty is a natural right – because it is a trait that develops via natural selection.
One of the choices that we make to assure a happy and prosperous life is to live with others, to form societies, so that we can mutually protect and promote our happiness. Living peacefully together helps us to survive and pass on our genes, so the tendency to form societal groups, including governments, is favored by natural selection. However, to participate in a society people accept certain limited attenuations to their rights. Specifically, they agree not to infringe on the rights of others. The ultimate manifestation of that agreement is law. Justice demands that everyone participate equally in the process by which law is developed and enforced. Civil rights assure this equal participation.
So, although we agree to follow the law, we primarily have the right to do whatever we want and our civil rights help assure that the governments we create recognize that right and promote our happiness.
How do our fundamental laws protect our liberties?
The design of our Constitution and the Uniting Amendment is such that first it assumes that everyone is completely free to do anything, then it specifies certain limitations in order to facilitate the functions of society. The amendment says:
- "In order to establish harmony, promote tolerance and diversity, and minimize points of contention, the right of all people to do anything they want shall not be abridged, provided that they respect the rights of others and abide by the provisions of this Constitution."
The provisions of the Constitution include, in effect, those certain limitations that are absolutely necessary for the government and society to function in a fair and transparent manner. For example, those who choose to represent us as elected officials agree to give up some rights (such as a portion of their privacy) and follow certain rules so that there is transparency and people are aware of what the representatives are doing. Additionally, the laws that limit what people can do must be constructed and implemented fairly. This is important, because without fairness in our laws and government, people will choose not to participate and civil society will breakdown to the point where people will no longer respect the rights of others, resulting in less happiness for everyone.