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Freedom from arbitrary interference in one's pursuits by individuals or by government. The term is usually used in the plural. Civil liberties are protected explicitly in the constitutions of most democratic countries. (In authoritarian countries, civil liberties are often formally guaranteed in a constitution but ignored in practice.) In the U.S., civil liberties are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution's 13th Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude; the 14th bars the application of any law that would abridge the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens or deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or deny any person equal protection under the law; and the 15th guarantees the right of all U.S. citizens to vote. The related term civil right is often used to refer to one or more of these liberties or indirectly to the obligation of government to protect certain classes of people from violations of one or more of their civil liberties (e.g., the obligation to protect racial minorities from discrimination on the basis of race). In the U.S., civil rights are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation. See alsoAmerican Civil Liberties Union.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on civil liberty, visit Britannica.com.