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civil rights

Introduction

civil rights, rights that a nation's inhabitants enjoy by law. The term is broader than "political rights," which refer only to rights devolving from the franchise and are held usually only by a citizen, and unlike "natural rights," civil rights have a legal as well as a philosophical basis. In the United States civil rights are usually thought of in terms of the specific rights guaranteed in the Constitution: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to due process of law and to equal protection under the law.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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