HGov: Chapter 4 Civil Liberties – Protecting Individual Rights


The chapter focuses on civil liberties issues. It examines a range of specific individual rights and their evolution over time. These rights include freedom of speech, religion, and privacy. However, these rights are constantly being balanced against competing individual rights and society’s collective interests, making these increasingly complex and important in contemporary American politics. The main points of this chapter are as follows:

  • Freedom of expression is the most basic of democratic rights, but like all rights, it is not unlimited.
  • “Due process of law” refers to legal protections (primarily procedural safeguards) designed to ensure that individual rights are respected by government.
  • Over the course of the nation’s history, Americans’ civil liberties have been broadened in law and more fully protected by the courts. Of special significance has been the Supreme Court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect individual rights from action by state and local governments.
  • Individual rights are constantly being weighed against the demands of majorities and the collective needs of society. All political institutions are involved in this process, as is public opinion, but the judiciary plays a central role and is the institution that is normally most protective of civil liberties.


Having read Chapter 4, you should be able to do each of the following:

  1. Explain why issues of constitutional individual rights or civil liberties have become more complex in contemporary times.
  2. Detail the development of selective incorporation as it relates to the Fourteenth Amendment and what it means for individual rights in the states.
  3. Trace the evolution of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the right of free expression through both the early and modern periods. Important concepts such as prior restraint, libel, and slander should also be understood. Discuss the extension of its guarantees to state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment.
  4. Outline the historical development of the federal judiciary’s application of due process protections.
  5. Review key Supreme Court decisions relating to the right of privacy.
  6. Discuss the significance of the establishment and free exercise clauses in relation to freedom of religion.
  7. Explain how the rights of the accused have been protected through Supreme Court rulings. Detail the protections encountered at various stages of the criminal justice system, from the suspicion phase through appeal.
  8. Describe the changes that the war on terrorism has brought to the protection of individual rights.
  9. Summarize the role of the courts in a free society.

Chapters 4 & 5 Quiz I on Friday Sept. 18