What Are Civil Rights?

What are civil rights? Civil rights are personal rights that protect the freedom of individuals from instances of infringement, whether from the government, another individual, or a social organization. Under civil rights laws, individuals have equal protection and social opportunities, enabling them to enjoy a free life in the United States.

Learn more about these rights and how they’re advancing in Illinois.

What Is the Legal Definition of Civil Rights?

Before getting into the specific civil rights that protect individuals, it’s important to know what these rights are, exactly.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, civil rights are “personal rights guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws enacted by Congress.” These rights include those listed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

There is a difference between civil liberties vs. civil rights. While civil liberties refer to rights and freedoms for people under the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, civil rights laws are in place to protect individuals from discrimination and came about after the development of the Bill of Rights.

Generally, the government has put civil rights into place to protect against discrimination following past instances of discrimination.

Why Are Civil Rights Important to Society?

People need civil rights to protect them from discrimination and other forms of unfair treatment from governments, institutions, social groups, and individuals. Without civil rights, individuals and groups could be susceptible to discrimination and suffer its impact.

Role of Illinois in the Civil Rights Movement

Like other states in the U.S., Illinois has a long history of civil rights involvement stemming back to the 1800s. Going back to 1874, laws were in place to prevent segregation, with the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 1885 adding onto civil rights by preventing discrimination in public locations like railroads, restaurants, hotels, and theaters.

However, discrimination and racial tension would cause difficulties in the state into the 20th century, with race riots in cities like Springfield. Segregation would ultimately still occur in the U.S. under Jim Crow laws, and Illinois would be no exception, with Chicago adopting racially prohibitive housing covenants as of 1927.

With the development of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, things would change in Illinois and across the country as new civil rights laws came about.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its Impact in Illinois

What was the civil rights movement? The civil rights movement began in the early 1960s in an attempt to eliminate discrimination and overturn Jim Crow laws that segregated the U.S. population for much of the 1900s. Starting in 1963, President John F. Kennedy requested the development of a civil rights bill from Congress, with President Lyndon B. Johnson continuing the pursuit of civil rights after Kennedy’s assassination.

By 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protected Americans from discrimination based on color, race, religion, nationality, and sex. This would have a significant impact across the country, including Illinois.

Specifically, in 1965, Illinois would go on to introduce the Chicago Freedom Movement, also called the Chicago open house movement. The movement began with involvement from civil rights figures Martin Luther King, Jr., Al Raby, and James Bevel. The movement aimed to provide equal opportunities for all Americans in areas ranging from open housing and education to employment and health care, and it would reach its peak in the summer of 1966. The most notable result of this particular movement was the development of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

In 1979, the Illinois Human Rights Act combined all current laws and processes to protect citizens from discrimination and provide equal opportunities.

What Are Some Current Civil Rights Issues in Illinois?

Despite movements working toward eliminating discrimination and protecting individuals, the occasional civil rights violation still takes place in Illinois, with recent cases illustrating how progress has only come so far.

For example, one issue pertains to police searches of vehicles on the basis of the smell of cannabis. In September 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois and the national ACLU filed amicus briefs with the Illinois Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit. The brief requested the courts to put into place a rule dictating that only the odor of marijuana and the lack of any other facts indicating a crime should not be grounds for police to conduct a search of a person’s vehicle. The brief also argued that officers often discriminate against drivers of color when they are allowed to search drivers and vehicles based on the odor of cannabis. The aim of this rule would help reduce racial disparities among drivers stopped for cannabis-related searches.

Successful Civil Rights Movements in Recent Years

Recent years have seen multiple civil rights movements attempting to give all American citizens equal rights and protections.

One example of civil rights in recent years is the Black Lives Matter movement, which continues to seek to end racially motivated police brutality and general violence across the country long after its founding in 2013. It recently gained momentum following the death of African-American civilian George Floyd at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin.

The recent civil rights movements have worked to further reduce and prevent instances of inequality that have held many people back over the years, including people of various colors, races, sexual orientations, genders, and other characteristics.

Steps Towards Advancing Civil Rights in Illinois

In an attempt to increase overall equality and give everyone the same social opportunities, civil rights movements continue in Illinois and beyond. The following are some ways people can get involved in civil rights and push for equality in this and other states.

Political Engagement and Voting

One way people can get involved in civil rights today is to vote for worthwhile causes and get involved in the political scene. Many politicians today are actively fighting for equality and want to implement policies that add more protections for the marginalized.

Individuals can help recent civil rights movements succeed more effectively by voting for progressive politicians and donating to the causes or political campaigns they believe in. Petitions and other methods of involvement can go a long way in promoting civil rights well into the future.

Community Organizations and Grassroots Movements

Another way to get involved in modern civil rights is to join a community organization or a grassroots movement.

For instance, one recent grassroots movement that has promoted equality is the #MeToo movement. Since the movement came along in 2017, its advocates have pushed for the elimination of sexual harassment and abuse in academic settings and the workplace.

Meanwhile, community organizations have also attempted to improve equality for all types of individuals. Some prominent organizations today include:

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Color of Change
  • The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • The Native American Rights Fund (NARF)
  • The National Urban League
  • UnidosUS

Raising awareness of causes like these and joining community organizations can continue to help increase equality for all individuals in the nation.

Promote Inclusivity and Diversity in All Sectors

People can also get involved in today’s civil rights movements by generally promoting inclusion and diversity across all sectors in the U.S. One of the biggest recent movements in this area is a push for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) among businesses across all industries.

To promote DEI in all sectors, companies are adopting strategic training programs that encourage diversity and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, companies are hiring individuals who value DEI and want to build workforces that imbue these values. Managers can also take steps to eliminate biases and provide equal pay for employees.

What to Do Following a Civil Rights Violation

While there are many movements out there to push for equality, civil rights violations still take place. People still suffer discrimination due to their race, color, or other characteristics, making it important to combat these instances and seek justice to prevent future occurrences.

If you or a loved one is the subject of a civil rights violation in Illinois, consult a civil rights lawyer to determine what options are available to you. Attorneys with a background in civil rights understand what protections people have and can help determine whether you have suffered any form of discrimination from an organization, institution, individual, or another party.

Knowing more about civil rights and the protections they provide individuals can help you figure out whether you qualify for a case against a third party for a civil rights violation of any kind. In addition to recovering economic and non-economic damages, a civil rights lawsuit could help protect you and your community from future harm.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

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