We hear a lot about civil rights. Some people say these rights embody the very soul or essence of our democracy and must be actively safeguarded. Others observe that these kinds of rights are spreading to other places around the world. Still others contend that these rights must sometimes be given up in order to protect our nation’s security. But do we ever stop and think about what rights are or could be? Why do we have them? What purposes do they serve and where might they be headed?
Our country’s Constitution and other founding documents incorporate many important ideas about civil rights as they have been imagined within our democratic society. Still, while our Constitution has survived for a couple hundred years, it has also had to change to meet the challenges of new social and political realities. We’ve seen some civil rights expanded to people who were not even recognized as “persons” in earlier times. We’ve also seen some rights contracted during times of social or political upheaval, or eroded through disuse.
There are dimensions to civil rights that go well beyond the conventional legal and political frameworks. For example, how might civil rights influence and even define the ways we choose to live our lives as individuals, the ways our government treats us as citizens, and the ways we treat one another as fellow citizens? How might civil rights relate to broader concepts of rights or citizenship or democracy? What new civil rights might emerge and what others might fall away as we move forward into this century?
This discussion guide and the six policy possibilities it presents invites us to consider these questions anew and how different answers to them might affect our future civil rights and democracy.
The six policy possibilities in this discussion guide:
A. Your Money or Your Rights
B. Distinguish Rights by Citizenship Status
C. Create More Rights
D. Finish the Basement
E. Put an Expiration Date on Civil Rights Legislation
F. Get in the Game