Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo

A large crowd of people pack two floors of a rotunda. Some hold rainbow flags or flags bearing an equals sign.
Figure 7.1 On May 13, 2013, thousands of people crowded into the Minnesota state capitol for the Minnesota Senate vote on a same-sex marriage bill. On that day, the bill became law. (credit: “Crowd during the same sex marriage vote in the Minnesota Senate” by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

This chapter examines the meaning of civil rights as a legal concept, how civil rights are defined in constitutions around the world, and which civil rights governments and institutions recognize and protect. It explores how individuals and groups, like Me Too and other social justice movements, can raise public awareness and work to change policies and improve legal protections surrounding issues of discrimination and unfair treatment under the law, and it shines a light on the important role of government and institutions that maintain and challenge the status quo. Civil rights issues are of particular concern for less powerful groups, including religious, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities (or anyone not seen as the majority in power). Often, civil rights change is rooted in local issues that become global, and social media provides new and accelerated pathways to equitable legislation and policy. The chapter draws on historical and current examples to provide a broad overview of past and ongoing civil rights abuses and to illustrate the methods people use to work for civil rights change.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 3, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.