GED Social Studies Test: Citizen Rights and Responsibilities

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

Understanding the rights and responsibilities of citizens is essential for the GED Social Studies test. The theme of individual rights and freedoms has been part of American life since the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, wanted specific guarantees for the rights of the individual.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Those amendments detail the basic rights of all American citizens. The interpretation of some of these rights has changed over the years as the Supreme Court has been asked to interpret their meanings to the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of that Bill of Rights as well as the Constitution.

Along with those rights come responsibilities of citizenship. Here is a good overview of citizen rights and responsibilities as presented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Rights Responsibilities
Freedom to express yourself. Support and defend the Constitution.
Freedom to worship as you choose. Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury. Participate in the democratic process.
Right to vote in elections for public officials. Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S.
citizenship.
Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
Right to run for elected office. Participate in your local community.
Freedom to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.”
Pay income and other taxes honestly and on time to federal,
state, and local authorities.
Serve on a jury when called on.
Defend the country if the need arises.

Source: www.uscis.gov/citizenship/learners/citizenship-rights-and-responsibilities

Some amendments in the Bill of Rights have a more immediate impact on citizens than others. The first amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. The fourth amendment guarantees individuals rights to the security of their person, houses, papers, and effects. Government agencies may not conduct searches or seizures without warrants issued for probable cause.

The fifth and sixth amendments deal with criminal prosecution, guaranteeing the right to “a speedy and public trial” and the right to confront accusers and see all evidence. It also guarantees the individuals rights against self-incrimination, the right to call witnesses on their behalves, and to the assistance of a lawyer if desired.

The second amendment is perhaps the most contentious:

Amendment II

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.

This article has been subject to frequent reinterpretation by the Supreme Court. It was once interpreted to mean that individuals who were members of a militia regulated by government had the right to keep and bear arms. Subsequent interpretations emphasize the “well regulated” part, allowing government to put strict regulation on firearm ownership.

The current interpretation is that any individual has the right to keep and bear arms. Though individual states have some regulation on ownership, in most instances all individuals have the right to bear arms.

Subsequent amendments abolished slavery (13th Amendment), guaranteed the rights of all citizens to vote regardless of race, color, or “previous condition of servitude” (15th Amendment), established the direct election of senators by popular vote (17th Amendment), granted women the right to vote (19th Amendment), prohibited the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages (18th Amendment, known as Prohibition), and repealed Prohibition (21st Amendment).

Let’s see what you know.

  1. An amendment is a

    • (A) modification of the U.S. Constitution

    • (B) correction of the U.S. Constitution

    • (C) statement of a citizen’s rights and responsibilities

    • (D) freedom granted to religious organizations

  2. Why is the phrase “previous condition of servitude” included in the 15th Amendment?

    • (A) to allow all people of color to exercise their right to vote

    • (B) to allow former slaves to exercise their right to vote

    • (C) to stop slaves from voting

    • (D) none of the above

You want answers? Here you go:

  1. An amendment is a modification to the U.S. Constitution (not to correct the Constitution but typically to clarify an issue that it doesn’t address). The correct answer is Choice (A).

  2. The phrase “previous condition of servitude” refers specifically to slavery, regardless of race or nationality, so Choice (B) is the best answer.