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Rights and Liberties
Overview, Key Understandings & Questions

Theme Key Understandings

  • Civil liberties and civil rights are related but distinct and can be in conflict with each other
  • Government documents provide a framework for the protection of civil rights and liberties in a society
  • The judicial branch interprets and defines civil liberties and civil rights as they apply in practice
  • Civil liberties protect against government overreach
  • Civil rights assure equal protection under the law
  • The attainment of civil rights is an ongoing process, with different groups achieving parity at different times
  • The judicial branch is tasked with finding a balance between the protection of individual liberty and maintaining positive social order

Key Questions

Freedom of Religion

  • How have Supreme Court rulings specifically defined Americans' right to freely practice their religion?
  • How have Supreme Court rulings defined the relationship between the U.S. government and religious institutions?

Freedom of Speech

  • How have Supreme Court rulings defined the categories of speech that are protected for all Americans?
  • In what ways is freedom of speech protected that are not related specifically to spoken words? For example, think about symbolic speech and campaign finance.

Freedom of the Press

  • Explain why freedom of the press is important to maintaining a functioning democracy.
  • What two rules has the Supreme Court established regarding freedom of the press?

Freedom of Assembly

  • What kinds of issues are typically addressed in freedom of assembly cases?
  • How have the courts limited freedom of assembly? What are the primary reasons they will usually limit it?

The Jury System

  • Why was the institution of a jury system so important to the founders of the United States?
  • Identify examples from American history that demonstrate the pros and cons of a jury system.

Due Process of Law

  • What does it mean to be protected by due process of law?
  • Why do you think it is common for American citizens to underestimate the importance of this protection?

Civil Rights

  • How has American history created a complicated past record of protection for civil rights?
  • Do you believe continued progress is still needed in regards to civil rights protections? Why or why not?

Voting Rights

  • Why are voting rights essential to a functioning American democracy?
  • Identify three key ways voting rights have been limited over the course of American history.


  • Why is it critical for American citizens to not just enjoy the benefits of their citizenship but to also uphold their responsibilities?
  • Should there be penalties for citizens who do not fulfill such responsibilities of citizenship as participating in the democratic process? For example, in some nations citizens must pay a fine if they do not vote. If so, why, and what should those penalties be? If not, why not?
  • Birthright citizenship, the process of gaining citizenship to a country because one was born there, has sparked numerous debates about the effects of immigration on the country. Should the United States retain birthright citizenship?

MLA Citation

"Living in America: Teaching U.S. Rights & Liberties." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Display/2142496?cid=246. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.

Entry ID: 2142496

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