The Subtle Differences Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Difference Between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
The terms 'civil rights' and 'civil liberties' are often used as synonyms of each other. If you're left wondering about the difference between them, look no further. This Buzzle post gives you an interesting comparison of civil rights vs. civil liberties, along with a list of their examples.
Did You Know?
47% of Americans believe that the loss of their civil liberties is a bigger threat than terrorism.
Most of us have heard of terms like 'freedom of speech' and 'right to vote', at some point. They may seem ridiculous, especially because these civil liberties are often taken for granted, without considering the struggle our ancestors had to go through to obtain them. On the other hand, civil rights are often associated with the popular movement started by Martin Luther King Jr., which successfully ended racial segregation. This movement greatly empowered the African-American community, by giving them equal rights. Which takes us to the question, do civil rights and civil liberties mean the same thing, as they are often used interchangeably? Find the answer in the following comparison between civil rights vs. civil liberties, which covers the key differences between them.
What Do They Mean?
Judge gavel on table
Civil rights are those given by the government to ensure that nobody is discriminated because of their age, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Civil liberties are certain basic, constitutional rights and freedoms which prevent the government from infringing in the lives of its citizens.
Whom Do They Protect?
Gender equality
Civil rights are based on the governmental protection of a group (such as African-Americans), who are likely to face discrimination.
People protesting with board and megaphone
Civil liberties aim to protect every individual (or give 'liberty') from an overbearing government.
Role of the Government
Civil rights represent the rights achieved by positive actions taken by the government.

Civil liberties are rights that protect citizens against government actions in the first place, when these infringe upon their rights.
What Kind of Rights are They?
Civil rights are rules and laws specifically designed to eradicate unequal treatment.

Civil liberties are basic rights without much specification, and are enjoyed by all.
Where are They Taken From?
The original civil rights are present in the 13th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution, and the rest have been derived from laws passed by the Federal Government. Several state constitutions and municipal laws also protect these rights.

Civil liberties are guaranteed by some parts of the Constitution and the entire Bill of Rights (1st Ten Amendments), while the rest are based on interpretations of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. State and local laws do not play much role in protecting civil liberties.
Examples
The rights obtained from the following laws are examples of civil rights.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids employers from discriminating against employees of 40 years age, or older.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 outlaws the unequal treatment of people with disabilities.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids any discrimination based on age, race, sex, religion, and similar parameters.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment gives equal citizenship rights to all, irrespective of race.
The following rights given by the Constitutional Amendments are examples of civil liberties.
  • Right to life and liberty
  • Freedom of speech and religion
  • Right to vote, marry, and carry weapons
  • Right of equal protection by law
  • Right to privacy and protection from having one's property/person searched without a warrant
  • Right to assemble for peaceful purposes
History
The concept of civil rights is of recent origin, though it represents the centuries-old struggle of African-Americans against unfair treatment. Its use began after the end of the US Civil War, when the 14th Amendment was passed to address the issues faced by former African-American slaves who were freed by the war. Later, the term became popular following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s, after which the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
The origins of civil liberties can be traced to a historic document called the Magna Carta, which granted similar rights to citizens of 13th-century England. When the United States achieved independence, all states wanted individual freedoms to be guaranteed by the new Federal Government, for which the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
Principle
Civil rights are based on the principle of a popular or democratic government, since it represents everyone without discrimination.

Civil liberties arise from a limited government, where citizens have significant control and the government has certain 'limits' over its power.
While the above comparison may depict civil rights and liberties as complete opposites, they can overlap in some cases. For example, a civil-rights complaint, where an employee is discriminated on the basis of his/her religion would also involve his freedom of religion (a civil liberty) if he was prevented from following his religion at the workplace.