“Civil rights” are the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment (and to be free from unfair treatment or “discrimination”) in a number of settings — including education, employment, housing, and more — and based on certain legally-protected characteristics.
Historically, the “Civil Rights Movement” referred to efforts toward achieving true equality for African-Americans in all facets of society, but today the term “civil rights” is also used to describe the advancement of equality for all people regardless of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, religion, or certain other characteristics.
Where Do Civil Rights Come From?
Most laws guaranteeing and regulating civil rights originate at the federal level, either through federal legislation, or through federal court decisions (such as those handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court). States also pass their own civil rights laws (usually very similar to those at the federal level), and even municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights.
“Civil Rights” vs. “Civil Liberties”
“Civil rights” are different from “civil liberties.” Traditionally, the concept of “civil rights” has revolved around the basic right to be free from unequal treatment based on certain protected characteristics (race, gender, disability, etc.), while “civil liberties” are more broad-based rights and freedoms that are guaranteed at the federal level by the Constitution and other federal law.