The term “civil liberties” brings to mind the rights and freedoms that people enjoy in democratic nations. Rather than being granted by a monarch, these are rights we are born with, and that our governments are instituted to protect. In order to have the “full enjoyment of their capabilities,” as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, people need to be protected from interference by the government. A government that can interfere at will with a citizen’s life, liberty, and security of the person is one of the hallmarks of authoritarianism or totalitarianism, which is why these rights are considered fundamental.
Civil liberties include not only basic freedoms such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but also democratic rights like the right to vote or run for office. They also include equality before the law—the right to receive equal protection under the law regardless of your race, gender, faith, or sexual orientation. Civil liberties are essential for democracy to function properly; they give citizens a way to hold their government accountable for its actions and policies through free speech and free elections.
For example, in the United States, we have a system of government that protects our rights and freedoms through the Constitution—the Bill of Rights. The Constitution says that all powers belong to the people, and that nobody can interfere with our rights. If we try to protect those rights, it gets complicated—sometimes we need to give up some of our rights in order to protect others.