They say that knowledge is power, and having knowledge of your rights is an important tool to protect yourself and the people around you. Americans have to overcome the legacy of the past and must learn to embrace the new democratic dispensation that’s been founded on the basic principles of freedom, equality, universal franchise, and human dignity.
The dawn of democracy has made the Constitution the supreme law of the entire land, and anything that’s outside it or has been found to be inconsistent with it, be it a law or any conduct, is considered invalid. The Constitution espouses rights for everybody and designates the Constitutional Court as the highest ruling court of the land.
Knowing your rights is the key to deepening the human rights culture and the promotion of its values as provided for in the Constitution. Ergo, knowledge of your basic rights is deemed very important. If you continue to be ignorant of your rights, then you deny yourself of the right to take the proper actions to protect and advance yourself in the process.
The laws in general can be very difficult to understand. The terminology and legal jargon can often be lost in translation, especially to those who are not so versed with it. Taking into account the existing levels of literacy (or maybe illiteracy) and often the unequal distribution of resources, a common conclusion is that most Americans only have a shallow understanding of their rights and their subsequent obligations to others. The Constitution also provides for the establishment of support institutions to ensure that everyone has an understanding of their rights. Thus, the creation of powerhouse institutions such as the Commission of Human Rights, the Commission on Civil Rights, Commission for Gender Equality, and more.
The most important idea to remember is this: no matter who you are and no matter how you live, you have the same set of rights as everybody else, and these rights are to protect and assert yourself as an individual. Yes, most people understand their rights, but there will be times when people can act unfairly and you won’t have a choice but to stick up for yourself to ensure that you’re treated with the respect that you certainly deserve. It can be hard at times, but it needs to be done, and if ever you are confused or scared, there are other people or institutions that can help you out.
Here are a few examples of your basic rights:
- The right to dignity and respect. This means that nobody is allowed to kick you, hit you, touch you, or violate you in any means without your permission. This also means that no one can yell at you, utter words that are meant to lower your dignity, morale, self esteem or generally hurt you.
- You have the right to spend your money however you want. You control your own finances. This means you can buy anything that you want. No one else is allowed to control how you want to allot your finances or take away your money without your consent.
- You have the right to live any way you want. Meaning you can make friends with whoever you want, go to work or be at the job you want, and live with whoever you want. It can be very easy to listen to other people on how you should do these things, and yes, listening to sound advice is great. However, you should learn to speak up for yourself if the people in your life are not keen on listening to your side of the story or are not really giving you any choice.
- You have the right to liberty. This means the government should not dictate how you live your life. Of course, you should still need to pay your taxes and obey the law, but the government cannot force you to make certain actions that are against your will. They can’t force you to vote in a certain way and you certainly have the right to make up your own mind about issues that not only affect yourself but the entire country.
An Example of Triumph for a Civil Rights Movement
The recent US Supreme Court Ruling that favors same-sex marriage nationwide.
In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court ruled last June 2015 that couples of the same gender can marry nationwide, which marks a civil rights victory that’s one for the books. After four decades following the day of the riot at the New York’s Stonewall Inn that gave way to the birth of the modern gay rights movement, this ruling settled one of the major civil rights fights launched in this era—the rights valuing that of family, love and liberty.
Millions of LGBT people contribute to the American life on a daily basis socially, culturally, politically, financially, vocationally, and even spiritually. The legalization of same sex marriage affirms the worthiness of the LGBT community as valued American citizens who deserve equal rights in the eyes of the law.
This promotion of societal non-discrimination and equality plays an important role in reducing the threat of homophobia to a number of people and in affirming a minority group in the society that has long suffered from unequal treatment, stigmatization, and discrimination. Legalizing this type of marriage communicates to the entire populace that gay relationships are of the same value as that of straight ones, and will hopefully reduce the inter-group prejudices and encourage a culture of even more diversity.
The United States became the 21st country to legalize same-sex marriage in its entirety, including within its territories. Married same-sex couples will start enjoying the same legal rights and benefits bestowed to married heterosexual individuals including recognition on official documents such as birth and death certificates.
Asserting Your Civil Rights at the Workplace: Why You Should Care
Your rights as an individual are certainly exercisable everywhere, and your workplace is no exception. Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of civil rights violations that happen in the workplace is sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Generally, it is described as “unwelcome advances, request for sexual favors, or other physical or verbal conducts of sexual nature”. Title VII is a federal law that disallows discrimination in employment on the basis of race, sex, creed, religion, color, and natural origin. It applies to employers that have 15 employees or more, including federal, state and local governments.
Oftentimes, people who are victims of sexual harassment at the workplace dare not complain for fear of further punishment. Know that this is improbable because Title VII forbids any employer from retaliating against anyone who filed any charges of harassment against them. It will also protect you from any retaliatory acts should you decide to participate in any sexual harassment investigation. Some states even employ stronger protections and measures beyond that of Title VII.
If you believe that you are facing sexual harassment at work, you can certainly do something to help protect your rights:
- Check your employee handbook and your workplace policies. If your employer has existing policies on sexual harassment in place, follow them. Place your complaints in writing and make it official. Take notes on the harassment and be specific, such as noting the date, time, and place of each incident, what was said, what was done, and who else witnessed these actions.
- If you feel safe enough to speak with the offending persona, these steps can be followed:
- Explain what behaviour is bothering you. Be specific.
- Tell him or her that their behaviour is bothering you.
- Ask them to stop.
- Tell your supervisor about the behaviour and the steps you’ve taken to address the issue. If you’re not comfortable speaking directly to the person harassing you, then go straight to your supervisor or to the Human Resource Department.
- Launch a complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you believe that you have a Title VII claim, you have the utmost right to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency tasked to enforce many anti-discrimination laws.
Some Examples of Sensational Sexual Harassment Suits Filed in America in the Recent Years
- Year 2007. A former team executive for the New York Knicks basketball team said she was fired from office only a month after she filed a harassment case against a famed coach.
Jury award: $11.6 million
Allegations: The plaintiff, Anucha Browne Sanders, claimed that Isiah Thomas, famous NY Knicks coach, had consistently harassed her over a period of two years and was fired from her job a month after she filed a formal complaint against him.
- Year 1994. A former employee of the state of Arkansas filed a sexual harassment case against then US President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Police Officer Danny Ferguson. She asked for $700,000 in damages.
Allegations: Jones claimed that Clinton, while the governor of Arkansas, harassed her sexually then defamed her after she went public with her claims.
Clinton ended paying Jones more than $850,000 in damages and faced an array of administrative sanctions.
- Year 1999. The first female millwright at a Chrysler plant said she had to endure cruel jokes and sexually explicit cartoons.
Jury award: $21 million
Allegations: Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit had its first woman millwright in the name of Linda Gilbert screaming foul as her co-workers harassed her with cruel names and sexually explicit photos.
These are only a few of your rights, as it will take a long time to list them all, but notice that your rights all have one thing in common: you have the right to be treated like everybody else—no matter who you are and no matter how you choose to spend or live your own life. Understanding your civil rights as they pertain to your education, employment, choice of hobbies and preferred activities, access to credit, police custody, and other situations is essential to living a full life. The good part is, if you ever need any help in protecting yourself, you also have the right to due process. This means you can ask questions and get answers and use those answers to change the way people are treating you. That is why it’s so important to know your rights, to ask for help if no one’s listening to you, and to share what you know with other people—it’s simply the right thing to do.