We the People. When most residents in the United States hear those words, they immediately think of the preamble to The Constitution of the United States. The opening remarks are powerful for good reason. They proclaim who is adopting the Constitution, why they are adopting it, and what is covered under it.
Looking at it from a legal perspective, those 52 words declare the enactment of the provisions that follow. When those provisions are not followed in this country, it can constitute a civil rights violation.
Knowing your civil rights and whether they’ve been violated can be tricky, especially if you’re an immigrant. In this article, we break down details about your civil rights, how to identify if you’re the victim of a civil rights violation, and where to turn for help.
What are your civil rights?
Before you can know whether your civil rights have been violated, you must understand your rights and how they apply to your daily life. There are 10 categories of civil rights in the U.S. Not every category applies to every person.
Civil rights when stopped by the police
It can be scary to get stopped by the police. Some U.S. residents have reason to feel more terrified than others. Racial bias can play a huge role in traffic stops. The issue has been studied locally and nationally by several organizations, all with similar outcomes.
When you’re stopped by the police in public, you have rights. They include:
- The right to remain silent (including answering questions about your U.S. citizenship status).
- The right to refuse a search of yourself or your belongings.
- The right to a government-appointed attorney if arrested.
Stay calm and never try to resist. State you wish to remain silent and request an attorney if police take you into custody. If your rights are violated, try to get as much information as possible, including the names and badge numbers of the officers and any witness information.
Civil rights for students
In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that student do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.” Students have First Amendment rights in school with one caveat: they can’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate school policies that don’t hinge on the message they are expressing.
Civil rights for students can be a tricky area to navigate. It’s best to consult with a civil rights attorney in Albuquerque if you believe your rights were violated.
Civil rights for protesters
The First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protesting. Narrow restrictions, such as requiring permits, can be placed by local government officials and the police without infringing on your rights.
When planning to protest, it’s best to choose a traditional public forum like streets, sidewalks, and parks. You also have the right to speak in front of government buildings and other public spaces if you’re not blocking access. You can take photos if in a public space, including of federal buildings and the police.
If you’re arrested for legally protesting, contact a civil rights attorney immediately.
Civil rights protecting religious freedom
Religious freedom is one of the most misunderstood constitutional rights in the U.S. You can face religious discrimination at work, in school, and even in public housing.
Some of your religious freedom rights in these settings include:
- Prevention from harassment that creates a hostile work, school, or housing environment.
- Reasonable accommodations for religious practices.
You can reach out to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if your rights have been violated on the job. For other religious freedom issues, contact a civil rights attorney.
Civil rights protecting against sex discrimination, gender identity, sexual orientation
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prevents employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating based on sex. Some courts also have ruled Title VII bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet taken up this issue, LGBTQ+ people can face murky interpretations of their rights. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against based on your gender identity or sexual orientation, it’s time to consult with a civil rights attorney in Albuquerque.
Civil rights protecting voters
Voters’ rights have been in the forefront since the 2020 election in the U.S. In an increasingly hostile environment, some voters wonder about their rights and how to enforce them. As a legally-registered voter in the U.S., you have the right to:
- Access disability-related accommodations (including language assistance) at the polls.
- Complete your vote if you’re still standing in line when the polls officially close.
- Exercise your voting rights without voter intimidation efforts.
You can call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-687-8683 if you experience issues at your polling place.
Civil rights for prisoners
Prisoners have the right to be protected against discrimination and abuse while incarcerated. Under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, prison officials have a legal obligation to refrain from using excessive force and protecting prisoners from assault by other prisoners.
File a grievance if your rights have been violated while in prison. You also can contact a civil rights attorney.
Civil rights protecting race, ethnicity, or national origin
If a company or an individual treats you differently based on your race, ethnicity, or national origin, it’s a civil rights violation in the U.S. Being denied a job or a promotion can be blatant examples of this kind of illegal discrimination. Some other forms – like policies against hiring those with a criminal record – can be more subtle.
In this category, the Constitution:
- Protects you from housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and denial of service in public places.
- Prevents the government from treating you differently based on your race, ethnicity, or national origin.
If your rights have been violated, gather as much documentation as you can and consult a civil rights attorney immediately.
Civil rights for disabled persons
Sadly, people with disabilities in the U.S. face widespread discrimination, exclusion, and segregation. Federal disability rights ensure fairness for disabled persons in housing, the workplace, and other public accommodation situations.
You’re not required to disclose your disability to coworkers or supervisors. Reasonable accommodations must be made on the job and in public for you to access the same services as non-disabled persons.
Filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission is the first step if you’ve experienced civil rights violations in any of these situations. You also can reach out to a civil rights attorney familiar with disability law in New Mexico to further assist.
Civil rights for immigrants
It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is in the U.S. You have guaranteed rights under the U.S. Constitution.
One of the most common issues faced by immigrants – including those legally in the U.S. – is being asked by law enforcement about their citizenship or immigration status. You have a right to remain silent and refuse to discuss your status. You also have the right to refuse consent to a search of your body or your belongings.
If you have immigration status documents, we recommend carrying them with you always. Present them if requested, but only to a U.S. immigration agent.
Contact a civil rights attorney immediately if any of these rights have been violated.
Do only U.S. citizens have civil rights?
Some people are misinformed about who the Constitution covers. They believe you must be a U.S. citizen to enjoy the freedoms and rights outlined within this document. Those assumptions are wrong.
Everyone has basic rights under the U.S. Constitution, including non-citizens. Never let an authority figure try to tell you that you aren’t protected because of your citizenship status.
The U.S. Constitution specifically says under Section 1 Due Process of Law: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
While U.S. citizens may have some rights not afforded to non-citizens – voting, running for certain government offices – all persons living in the U.S. have equal protection under the law.
What is a civil rights violation?
A civil rights violation happens when force, or the threat of force, is used against you to keep you from exercising any of your rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Department of Justice takes seriously all civil rights violations. This federal office protects civil rights through enforcement, education, and coordination. You can file a complaint directly with their offices.
You also have the right to consult with a civil rights attorney in Albuquerque if you want to review the merits of your case before filing.
What are some examples of civil rights violations?
Sometimes civil rights violations are blatant, like being physically threatened at your polling place while trying to vote. Others can be more subtle, like being denied a promotion at work based on your gender or race.
Let’s explore two examples of what discrimination can look like at work and in public accommodations.
Example 1: Disability Discrimination
Let’s say you’re a person with a tic disorder. Your disorder causes irregular, repetitive and uncontrollable movements of muscles throughout your body that can happen without warning. You’re enjoying a night out at a restaurant with your friends, when you’re approached by the manager. He explains that he needs to relocate you and your guests to a table in the back of the restaurant because your ticking is upsetting some other patrons.
This can be an uncomfortable situation. It’s also blatant discrimination. In this instance, you have a right to refuse their offer to relocate your table. If they insist or refuse to serve you unless you comply, you have a case for a civil rights violation.
Example 2: Workplace Discrimination
Let’s say you’re a black woman working in a typically male-dominated industry. A supervisory position has just opened within your company, and it’s between you and another employee (who just so happens to be an older white male). You have more experience. He ends up with the promotion.
It’s quite possible this is a case of workplace discrimination based on your gender or your race (or both). Consulting with a civil rights attorney familiar with workplace discrimination laws can help you build a case.
Seeking help with civil rights violations
In addition to the protections afforded to you under the U.S. Constitution, New Mexico also has its own statewide statutes that offer added protection, including the New Mexico Human Rights Act of 1969.
If you believe your civil rights have been violated, reach out to our offices today to schedule a free case evaluation. Our skilled civil rights attorneys can review your case and make recommendations for the best possible outcome.