What Are Civil Liberties?

The Bill of Rights is designed to protect the freedoms of individuals from interference by government officials. Originally these protections were applied only to actions by the national government; different sets of rights and liberties were protected by state constitutions and laws, and even when the rights themselves were the same, the level of protection for them often differed by definition across the states. Since the Civil War, as a result of the passage and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and a series of Supreme Court decisions, most of the Bill of Rights’ protections of civil liberties have been expanded to cover actions by state governments as well through a process of selective incorporation. Nonetheless there is still vigorous debate about what these rights entail and how they should be balanced against the interests of others and of society as a whole.