Rights, Duties, and Responsibilities of a Citizen
How does an individual become a US citizen?
A citizen is a legally recognized subject of a nation. US citizenship is defined by the 14th Amendment of our Constitution:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
Citizenship by birthright is fairly simple, but what is naturalization? Naturalization is the process by which a foreigner not born in the US (i.e. a citizen of another country; immigrants) can apply to become a US citizen. An individual must meet several requirements to become naturalized.
The individual must have had a “green” card (or “permanent resident” card) for at least five years. Owners of green cards are called permanent residents and enjoy the same constitutional rights as US citizens; they are allowed to live and work in the US indefinitely, so long as they don’t break any laws that can result in their deportation (removal from the US).
Permanent residents may apply to become a citizen as they wish, but not all may choose to do so. There are several reasons they might not want to. For example, they may expect to leave the US after a certain period of time, or they feel loyalty to the country in which they are legal citizens. Whatever their reason, it is important to respect their rights and wishes as residents of the United States.
The permanent resident must be at least A) 18 years old, B) have the ability to speak, read, and write in basic English, and C) be a person of “good moral character.”
The permanent resident must file the appropriate forms and pass an interview/citizenship test in which they demonstrate their knowledge of our country’s history, the US Constitution, and our culture, among other things. Additionally, they must take an oath of allegiance to our country.
There are several exceptions to the rules and processes outlined above for naturalization. For example, if a permanent resident’s spouse is already a US citizen, they only have to have a green card for 3 years to apply for citizenship. An individual may also apply for dual citizenship in which they become citizens in the US while also maintaining their citizenship status in their home country.
Basic Citizenship Rights
The First Amendment grants US citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition (a handy mnemonic to remember these is SPRAP). These rights can be summarized as our freedom of expression.
Speech: The right to say whatever we want, so long as it does not present a clear and present danger to those around us.
Press: Freedom of anyone to publish anything (for example, on newspapers), so long as it isn’t libel (an untruthful written statement whose purpose is to harm someone or something’s reputation)
Religion: The right to worship whatever god or religion you choose.
Assembly: The right to gather and conduct peaceful protests.
Petition: The right to ask a government at any level to right a wrong or correct a problem. This is also called lobbying.
Due Process and Equal Protections
The 5th Amendment and the 14th Amendment both grant citizens the right to due process, which is a requirement that all legal matters be resolved according to established rules and principles. Additionally, the 14th Amendment states that the government cannot deny someone the equal protection of the laws. This means that everyone must be treated the same way under the law, which ensures that rules are applied fairly.
Basic Duties of Citizenship
Duties are normally a required part of citizenship upheld by the law. Here are a few of them:
- Obey the law
Citizens have a legal and, often times, moral responsibility to uphold the law. It is important to be mindful of local, state, and federal laws.
- Pay taxes
Most citizens must pay their fair share of taxes in order to benefit all Americans. For example, taxes may fund public works projects, such as building a new park for everyone to enjoy.
- Defend the nation
In times of war, all men age 18 and older are required to register with the government in case the country needs to draft. A draft is a essentially a lottery that calls men to sign up for the military.
- Serve in court
When called upon for jury duty, Americans must show up in court to act as jurors for trials. In a jury trial, a group of jurors hears the arguments in a case and ultimately decides the verdict for the trial.
Basic Responsibilities of Citizenship
Unlike duties, responsibilities are not a required part of US citizenship. They are optional activities that a citizen may partake in to benefit their nation. Good citizens observe both duties and responsibilities.
- Register and vote
A good citizen is registered to vote in local, state, and national elections. Not only that, good citizens frequently exercise their democratic rights by voting in every election they can.
- Communicate with government officials
Good citizens try to communicate with their government officials through lobbying. Doing so helps keep the officials in touch with their citizens as well as their needs.
- Participate in political campaigns
Oftentimes, good citizens may contribute to political campaigns of politicians who they think will help benefit society.
- Keep up with current events
By staying well-informed about current events, a good citizen can understand the current context and priorities of America’s political climate as well as contribute to discussions about these current events.
- Respect different opinions and people in a diverse society
America is a melting pot of many different and amazing ideas, people, and cultures. Just as you would like to be treated with respect, you should treat others around you with the same respect and understand that our differences are what make us all unique and colorful individuals.