Civil Liberties and Civil Rights for AP U.S. Government

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

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Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Review Questions for AP U.S. Government

Civil Liberties

  • Constitution—The original Constitution mentions specific rights considered to be fundamental freedoms by the Founding Fathers:
  • writ of habeas corpus—You must be brought before the court and informed of charges against you.

    — no bills of attainder—You cannot be punished without a trial.

    — no ex post facto laws—Laws applied to acts committed before the laws' passage are unconstitutional.

    — trial by jury.

  • Bill of Rights—added in 1791 to the original Constitution to provide specific guarantees by the national government:
  • — freedom of religion, speech, press, petition and assembly.

    — no unreasonable searches and seizure.

    — protections against self-incrimination and double jeopardy.

    — protections in criminal procedures.

  • The Fourteenth Amendment provided for the expansion of individual rights—The Supreme Court in Gitlow v. New York (1925) and subsequent cases has interpreted the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to state and local governments (incorporation). Today, most guarantees of the Bill of Rights have been incorporated to apply to the state and local governments.
  • Legislative actions are laws that set limits or boundaries on one person's rights over another's or bring balance between the rights of individuals and the interests of society—For example, false advertising is not protected under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
  • Court decisions protect rights through the use of judicial review—Flag burning (Texas v. Johnson, 1989) is protected, but burning a draft card (United States v. O'Brien, 1968) is not protected symbolic speech.

Freedom of Religion

Two protections for freedom of religion exist: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.—Amendment 1

The Establishment Clause

According to Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution creates a "wall of separation between Church and State." Because the church and government are separate in the United States, Congress cannot establish any religion as the national religion, nor favor one religion over another, nor tax American citizens to support any one religion. Controversy concerning the exact meaning and extent of the Establishment Clause has led to actions by the Supreme Court in defining the parameters of the clause, including:

  • Everson v. Board of Education (1947)—The Court upheld a New Jersey policy of reimbursing parents of Catholic school students for the costs of busing their children to school.
  • Engel v. Vitale (1962)—The Court ruled school-sanctioned prayer in public schools is unconstitutional.
  • Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)—The Court struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring the reading of a Bible passage at the beginning of each day.
  • Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)—The Court struck down a Pennsylvania law reimbursing parochial schools for textbooks and teacher salaries and established the Lemon Test. To pass the test a law must (1) have a primarily secular purpose; (2) its principal effect must neither aid nor inhibit religion; and (3) it must not create excessive entanglement between government and religion.
  • Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)—The Court upheld the right of governmental entities to celebrate the Christmas holiday with Christmas displays that might include nativity scenes, if secular displays are also sufficiently included.
  • Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)—The Court overturned a state law setting aside time for "voluntary prayer" in public schools.
  • Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)—The Court ruled that Louisiana could not force public schools that taught evolution to also teach creationism.
  • Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens (1990)—The Court upheld the Equal Access Act of 1984, which required public secondary schools to provide religious groups the same access to facilities that other extracurricular groups had.
  • Lee v. Weisman (1992)—The Court ruled against clergy-led prayer at high school graduation ceremonies.
  • Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2002)—The Court overturned a Texas law allowing high school students to read a prayer at athletic events such as football games.

The Free Exercise Clause

The Free Exercise Clause guarantees the right to practice any religion or no religion at all. In its interpretations of the Free Exercise Clause, the Supreme Court has made distinctions between belief and practice. The Court has ruled that, while religious belief is absolute, the practice of those beliefs may be restricted, especially if those practices conflict with criminal laws. For example,

  • Reynolds v. United States (1879)—The Court upheld the federal law that prohibited polygamy even though Reynolds, a Mormon from Utah, claimed that the law limited his religious freedom.
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)—The Court ruled that Wisconsin could not require Amish parents to send their children to public school beyond the eighth grade because it would violate long-held religious beliefs.
  • Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith (1990)—The Court ruled that Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to workers fired for using drugs (peyote) as part of a religious ceremony.
  • Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)—The Court ruled that laws banning animal sacrifice were unconstitutional because they targeted the Santeria religion.

In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, giving people the right to practice religious activities unless prohibited by laws that are narrowly tailored and the government can show a "compelling interest." In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional in City of Boerne, Texas v. Flores.

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