Civil liberties are the freedoms of a citizen to exercise customary rights without interference by the government. Common civil liberties include freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, and additionally, the right to due process, to a fair trial, and to privacy. The formal concept of civil liberties dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215 which in turn was based on pre-existing documents.
Republics or democracies such as the United States have a bill of rights and similar constitutional documents that list, and seek to guarantee, civil liberties. Other states have enacted similar laws through a variety of legal means, including signing and ratifying or otherwise giving effect to key conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It might be said that the protection of civil liberties is a key responsibility of all citizens of democratic states, as distinct from authoritarian states.
The existence of some claimed civil liberties is a matter of dispute, as are the extent of most civil liberties. Controversial examples include reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, possession of arms, and the use of certain drugs. Another matter of debate is the suspension or alteration of certain civil liberties in times of war or state of emergency, including whether and to what extent this should occur.
- Dershowitz, Alan. “Preserving Civil Liberties.” Reflections on the Fractured Landscape, spec. sec. of Chronicle of Higher Education, Chronicle Review, September 28, 2001. Accessed August 11, 2006.
- Smith, Jean Edward, and Herbert M. Levine. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Debated. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988.
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom of dress