Civil liberties in the United States
Liberties of the United States are certain inalienable rights retained by (as opposed to privileges granted to) citizens of the United States under the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted and clarified by the Supreme Court of the United States and lower federal courts.1 Civil liberties are simply defined as individual legal and constitutional protections from entities more powerful than an individual, for example, parts of the government, other individuals, or corporations. The liberties explicitly defined, make up the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to privacy.2 There are also many liberties of people not defined in the Constitution, as stated in the Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Freedom of speech is a civil liberty protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791.
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.3
This civil liberty grants all United States citizens the right to express themselves and enjoy the expression of others without interference of the government. This freedom of expression is often tested and can be the center of controversy because of how it is interpreted. The courts have recognized the Bill of Rights as having the intention of rights of privacy and the separation of church and state, even though it is not clearly stated. It is also thought that the amendment refers only to government interference, which leads to individual corporations and businesses violating these freedoms.
The following types of speech are not protected constitutionally: defamation or false statements, child pornography, obscenity, damaging the national security interests, verbal acts, and fighting words. Because these categories fall outside of the First Amendment privileges, the courts can legally restrict or criminalize any expressive act within them. Other expressions, including threat of bodily harm or publicizing illegal activity, may also be ruled illegal.4
The right of the people to keep and bear arms is assured by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:
- A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
This amendment was legally controversial until a Supreme Court case in 2008. In the District of Columbia v. Heller case, the Second Amendment and its relation to gun control laws in the District of Columbia were evaluated by the Supreme Court for the first time in 70 years. The court decided that the Second Amendment did not grant the right to keep and bear arms solely to a military force, but to private citizens as well. The Court held that "[t]he Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home" -District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).56
Statute laws regarding the keeping and bearing of arms vary by state. Different states have made provisions to this right throughout history, generally regarding the issue of self-defense. A majority of state constitutions allow arms for any citizen in self-defense of himself or the state. 7 States without any specific provisions regarding this clause are California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York. Of these, only Iowa and New Jersey provide a clause for "defending life and liberty." 8
This civil liberty can be approached philosophically as well as lawfully. What does the word "arms" exactly mean? What does the word "bear" mean in this specific statement? The word "bear" means to carry or to hold. The word "arms" means, weapons, but not necessarily firearms specifically. When these words are used together, "bear arms" could most likely be interpreted by some as a right to carry firearms outside of one's home. The topic of whether firearms were or were not able to be carried outside the home was not addressed in the District of Columbia v. Heller court case.
"The lawyer who won the Columbia v Heller court case to allow residents to keep handguns in their homes is now fighting to allow residents and visitors to carry their firearms in public." 9 While it is legal to carry a concealed firearm in other select states, it is still prohibited in the District of Columbia.
Main article: Equal Protection Clause
Equal protection prevents the government from creating laws that are discriminatory in application or effect.
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).
- Alexander, Keith L. (August 8, 2009). "Lawsuit Seeks Right to Carry Concealed Weapons in the District". The Washington Post.
- Alexander, Keith L. Lawsuit Seeks Right to Carry Concealed Weapons in the District. Www.washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU.org. n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2009.
- FindLaw. First Amendment - Religion and Expression. FindLaw for Legal Professionals. FindLaw, 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- Gordon, Jesse. Civil Liberties vs. Civil Rights. OnTheIssues.org. Ed. Jesse Gordon. Jesse Gordon, 3 Aug. 2000. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
- Scalia, Antonin. District of Columbia v. Heller. Oyez.org. The US Supreme Court Media, June 2008. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.