The definition of civil rights has evolved over time. How does one decide what is a current civil rights issue? What are the guidelines?
“Civil rights” are defined in many different ways. Many people associate civil rights as dealing strictly with minority groups. This is easily understood. In the past civil rights issues were focused on women’s rights, African-American rights, and homosexual rights for a start. The question is what was being protested?
The African-American civil rights movement (1950’s – 1960’s) is remembered by many due to the extreme racial discrimination and the suffrage which was ongoing in the southern states. The “Reconstruction” era directly after the Civil War had been a failure, with many living in the same conditions they had while they were slaves. Fines and voter intimidation was commonplace and had effectively shut down any chance of voting the newly freed African-Americans had hoped would become regular.
Although there are still occasional outbursts of prejudice, for the most part America truly has become a melting pot. Laws have ensured employers offer equal opportunity and unions ensure laborers are protected. “Hate crimes” are punished harshly enough that their occurrence has become rare indeed (at least in this corner of the world). Racism and prejudice surely still exist, yet not as overtly as we have seen in the recent past.
So what is a current civil right issue?
A more recent definition of civil rights is written as “rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted action by government and private organizations and individuals and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.” By definition, this includes protection for discrimination on a whole as well as individual right issues (“the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement”). Please note: freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.
DictionaryReference.com defines civil rights in numerous ways; the first definition is more applicable to the topic at hand and shall be used as reference: “rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and certain Congressional acts, esp. as applied to an individual or a minority group.”
Based on the research available, civil rights not only applies to the rights of a group (gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, age, etc) but also to the rights of the individual. When a new law is introduced which will infringe on individual rights, which happens often, that is a civil rights concern. When the government tries to regulate the way the individual lives in their home or acts in their car, once again, that is a civil rights concern.
One may only hope that the issues being discussed inform and enlighten those who may have been blissfully unaware.
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