Rights and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens

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United States citizens are some of the richest in the world when it comes to the rights that they are afforded. Along with those rights come responsibilities. The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the foundation upon which these rights and responsibilities were carved.

A right is a freedom or privilege that is granted to U.S. citizens by the constitution. A responsibility is a duty or obligation to be able to enjoy those rights. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. To enjoy the right of freedom of religion, we have the responsibility to respect the religion of others. To enjoy the right of freedom of expression, we have the responsibility to respect the opinion of others (Difference Between, 2012).

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Citizens should have a knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, understand why they have them and recognize that the government should protect them (CFA Resource, 2018).

For the democratic process to work in the United States, citizens must actively participate in the decision-making process of the government. One way to contribute is to use the right to vote and vote for elected officials. Citizens also have the responsibility to participate in the community. Some ways to participate include: obeying the law, jury duty, paying taxes and voting. These responsibilities are also crucial for the democratic process to work. Voting is a right of U.S. citizens, but it is also a responsibility (The American Government, n.d.).


Freedom of Religion — the right to choose a religion, or no religion, without interference by the government.

In 1791, the First Amendment established a separation of church and state. This prohibits the federal government from making laws establishing a national religion and prohibits the government from interfering with a person’s religious beliefs or practices (Freedom of Religion, 2017).

In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment extended religious freedom by preventing states from passing laws that would help or hinder any one religion.

Through the years since then there have been many landmark Supreme Court cases dealing with Freedom of Religion.

  • 1878 – Reynolds v. United States – the Supreme Court upheld a federal law banning polygamy. Their reasoning was that the First Amendment forbids government from regulating belief but not from actions such as marriage.
  • 1961 – Braunfeld v. Brown – Orthodox Jews argued that a Pennsylvania law requiring stores to close on Sundays was unfair to them. Their religion required them to close stores on Saturdays as well. The Supreme Court upheld the Pennsylvania law.
  • 1963 – Sherbert v. Verner – a Seventh-day Adventist was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays. Her claim for unemployment compensation was denied by a South Carolina court. The Supreme Court ruled that states could not require a person to abandon their religious beliefs so that they could receive unemployment compensation benefits.

Right to bear arms – The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” (Armed Conflict, 2018). This right has caused much debate over the years regarding the true meaning of the Second Amendment and gun control.

There have been many gun-control laws passed through the years. Supreme Court cases regarding the Second Amendment include the following:

  • 1876 – U.S. v. Cruikshank. Members of the Ku Klux Klan did not allow black citizens the right to bear arms. The Court ruled that the right of each individual to bear arms was not granted under the Constitution.
  • 1886 – Presser v. Illinois. The Court ruled again that the Second Amendment only limited the federal government from prohibiting gun ownership, not the states.
  • 1894 – Miller v. Texas. Miller sued the state of Texas, arguing that even though state laws said otherwise, he should have been allowed to carry a concealed weapon under Second Amendment protection. The court ruled against Miller saying that the Second Amendment does not apply to state laws such as the Texas law restricting carrying dangerous weapons.
  • 1939 – U.S. v. Miller. Two men were arrested for carrying an unregistered sawed-off shotgun across state lines. This was prohibited by the National Firearms Act. The argument was that the National Firearms Act violated their rights under the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court disagreed saying that the possession of a shotgun with a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length does not relate to the efficiency of a well-regulated militia.

There was a period of nearly 70 years without cases regarding the Second Amendment.

2008 – the District of Columbia v. Heller. Heller challenged the nation’s capital’s handgun ban. This was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled that individuals who were not part of a state militia did have the right to bear arms. The ruling also said that individuals could possess firearms and use them for traditional lawful purposes such as self-defense in the home (Brooks, 2017).

Many suggested regulations resulted from Heller (2008) case. These include bans on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, bans on carrying firearms in “sensitive places” such as government buildings or schools, laws restricting the commercial sale of firearms, bans on the concealed carry of firearms, and bans on weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. Many of these suggestions are still in deliberation because the lower courts have disagreed with each other about them (Lund & Winkler, n.d.).

2010 – McDonald v. City of Chicago. This case challenged the city of Chicago’s ban on private handgun ownership. The Supreme Court affirmed its decision in the earlier Heller case and ruled that the Second Amendment applies equally to the federal government and the states (Brooks, 2017).

2016 – Caetano v. Massachusetts. A woman had a stun gun for self-defense from an abusive ex-boyfriend. The woman was arrested and convicted for possession of the weapon because stun guns were illegal under Massachusetts law. The Supreme Court ruled that stun guns and any instrument that could be considered a bearable arm are protected under the Second Amendment (Brooks, 2017).

In March of 2018, the debate continued when the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia overturned a 30-year old law forbidding DC residents from owning handguns. Six Washington DC residents challenged the law. They wanted to be able to keep guns in their homes to protect themselves against crime. The court’s ruling is being appealed (Armed Conflict, 2018).

Opponents of gun control feel that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to have firearms. Supporters of gun control feel that the amendment is referring to a collective right of the states to maintain militias (Armed Conflict, 2018).

Gun control opponents say that restricting gun ownership violates an individual’s right guaranteed by the Constitution and feel that armed self-defense is a necessity. Advocates of gun control feel that easy access to firearms is causing increased gun violence and that restrictions on gun ownership will save lives (Armed Conflict, 2018).

As of November 12, 2018, there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States (Miller & McCoy, 2018). As a result, the debate over gun control continues to grow. Whether a proponent or advocate for gun control, these tragic incidents motivate both to have their opinions heard (Brooks, 2017).

Right to vote in elections for public officials—Exercising the right to vote should be done intelligently and responsibly. Carefully researching and understanding the views and values of those seeking office will result in elected officials being held accountable to uphold the principles of liberty and constitutional government (CFA Resource, 2018).

Voting was not always afforded to every U.S. citizen. Two hundred years ago, only wealthy, white, landowning males were permitted to vote. With these guidelines, 85 percent of the adult population was excluded from voting. Thomas Dorr, a Rhode Island state representative fought to change that in the 1840’s. He went to prison, and was eventually pardoned, but his fight was not in vain. By the time of the Civil War, nearly all white men, rich or poor, were permitted to vote (Olson, 2018).

In 1917, Alice Paul fought for women’s voting rights. She protested in front of the White House and eventually was arrested and served time in less than acceptable confinement. President Woodrow Wilson was dealing with major public relations problems which led him to pardon Alice Paul and her partners in the suffrage battle and to agree to the suffrage amendment to the Constitution. On August 26, 1920, women won the right to vote (Olson, 2018).

In 1964, fewer than 40 percent of black adults in the Southern states were registered to vote. Of the southern states, Mississippi was the lowest with only 6.4 percent. Bob Moses, a civil rights worker, worked to try to change that. He took gashes to the head which required stitches while he was walking two black men to the court house to register to vote. Moses and others went door to door for three years trying to get people to register to vote and did get 4,000 new voters (Olson, 2018).

Moses organized a project called Freedom Summer that brought 900 volunteers down from the North. Just as Moses predicted, when two white volunteers and a black activist where shot, the media flocked to Mississippi to report the news of racial violence (Olson, 2018).

Bob Moses become frustrated with the increasing tensions between black and white activists and moved back North. His fight was not in vain. Later that summer, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that enforced equal access to voting in the South (Olson, 2018).

Through the efforts of these brave individuals over many years, suffrage is now a luxury that all citizens can enjoy.


Participating in the democratic process—There are many ways citizens can participate in the democratic process. These include trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way, signing a petition, writing letters to elected representatives, campaigning for a candidate, contributing money to a party or candidate, running for office, holding public office (How Can Citizens Participate?, n.d.).

A recent example of trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way is the November 2018 Primary. Oprah Winfrey went door to door in Georgia trying to persuade voters to vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams who was running for Georgia governor. Former President Barack Obama also endorsed 81 democratic candidates, including Stacey Abrams, for the November midterm elections (Fritze, 2018). President Donald Trump endorsed and campaigned for Abrams’ opponent, Republican Brian Kemp (Barrow, 2018).

Doing any or all these things ensures that individual voices are heard by elected officials and that our government is maintained (Citizenship in America, n.d.)

Defend your country if the need shall arise — The military is currently all-volunteer. If the need arose in a time of war, all citizens must unite and assist the Nation if they are able. Support to defend the Nation could be military, non-combat or civilian service (Citizenship in America, n.d.)

The Selective Service Act of 1917 ensures that, if the country goes to war, it has enough troops to win. In World War I the first Selective Service Act was enacted. Its purpose was to register men for the draft. The draft forced men to go to war to meet troop demands (What Was, 2018).

The draft was instituted in the following wars: The Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War (What Was, 2018).

Many selective service acts have been approved by Congress through the years. The acts varied in that they mandated registration of men of different ages and for different lengths of time. The current Selective Service Act requires men between the ages of 18 and 25 to be registered (What Was, 2018).

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Rights and Responsibilities of U.S. Citizens. (2021, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/rights-and-responsibilities-of-u-s-citizens/