3b - Civil Rights - Civil Rights

3b - Civil Rights - Civil Rights - From:...

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From: anonymous@britannica.com Sent: Saturday, November 09, 2002 3:14 PM To: tavakoli@unity.ncsu.edu Subject: Britannica Student Encyclopedia Article Bill of Rights Britannica Student Encyclopedia A written statement that spells out the rights of citizens and the limitations of government is commonly called a “bill of rights.” The term rights is used, basically, in two senses: natural rights and civil rights. Natural rights are those rights that any person can claim by virtue of his or her humanity; the right to life is most basic of these. Civil rights are those rights granted to citizens by their government. The right to vote is a civil right: in the United States persons 18 years of age and older may vote; younger citizens may not vote. For most of human history, there was no clear distinction between civil and natural rights. The reason for this is that most societies in the ancient and medieval world regarded the state as supreme over its citizens. This does not mean that citizens did not have rights, but that the rights they did have were exercised at the behest of the government and could be withdrawn or altered at any time. Late in the Middle Ages a change in attitude began to take place concerning the matter of human rights. The power of kings was increasing at the expense of the other classes in society. To offset the power of the monarchy, the feudal nobles of England confronted King John in 1215 and demanded that he sign a statement guaranteeing them certain rights—rights with which he could not interfere except by legally constituted procedures. The document that the king signed was called the Great Charter, or Magna Carta. It was a landmark document in the field of human rights because it put down in writing the fact that at least some of the king's subjects had rights that limited the power of government over them. The fact that the king signed the Magna Carta had the effect of putting him under the law, not above it. Magna Carta was therefore the first clear assertion of the thesis that the state exists for its citizens, not vice versa (see Magna Carta). In the next few centuries the notion of human rights became entwined with the struggle in many countries for representative government. Philosophers and legal scholars such as John Locke, Hugo Grotius, and Montesquieu clarified the distinction between natural and civil rights. They maintained, as the United States Declaration of Independence states, that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The word unalienable means that no one can arbitrarily be deprived of his or her rights by government without just cause (see Declaration of Independence). As the drive to self-government progressed in England, the United States, France, and later in other countries, a
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3b - Civil Rights - Civil Rights - From:...

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