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Knowing Your Rights is Important. Here's a Refresher.

We break down your rights at a protest, at a hospital, at airport security and when you get pulled over.

by Gretchen Brown
August 30, 2019 | Our Future

Knowing your rights isn’t as simple as carrying around a pocket constitution.

Ever actually read it? The Bill of Rights was meant to protect our country against a future oppressive government, but it's written very broadly.

To understand exactly how it applies to your daily life, you have to look at how our court system has interpreted the constitution. And that’s going to depend on the situation.

To help, Rewire put together some handy guides for situations when you might need a little First Amendment (or Fourth Amendment, or Fifth Amendment) refresher.

At a traffic stop

A crowd of people hold up signs at a protest. PBS Rewire Our Future Rights
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech and assembly. That means you can’t be punished for what you say — even if it’s controversial.

Those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror are never what you want to see. Even if you don’t end up getting a ticket, being pulled over by police is always nerve-wracking.

Highly publicized cases of deadly encounters between police and motorists, such as the Philando Castile case, have inspired some communities to add a new component to their driver’s education curriculum: what drivers should do when they’re pulled over.

Here’s the gist: always refuse a search of your vehicle. Don’t physically resist or verbally argue. And know that while you have the right to remain silent, it might not be your best option.

Read more here.

Renting an apartment

Whether you’re looking to rent or buy, you’ve got strong legal protection behind you.

The Fair Housing Act protects you from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children when you are renting, buying or obtaining a home loan.

But you’ve got to understand how it works in order to use it.

For instance, landlords can set criteria based on employment, income or credit standards. But they can’t set different criteria for different groups.

Same goes for setting property rules — you can’t make rules that specifically apply to children, for instance.

You’re also entitled to a tour of the property. That’s important, since dishonest landlords will attempt to “steer” you to a portion of the property for whatever reason.

Wanna learn more? Read here.

Some activists, and even some countries' governments, believe housing itself should be a right. Our web series "America From Scratch" explored the idea of housing as a human right and how that could impact the half a million people experiencing homelessness in the U.S.

At airport security

There’s something about airport security that makes you feel like you’re hiding something.

It feels intrusive for most folks, even if Transportation Security Administration agents are only there to make flying safer.

It’s important to remember that TSA agents aren’t law enforcement officers. In addition, those Fourth Amendment rights that protect against unreasonable search and seizure still apply to your security check.

For instance, you’re allowed to refuse the full-body scanner. That just means you’ll be subject to a full-body pat down by a person of your gender in a private location.

But they can’t strip search you, and you have the right to refuse to take off anything, except for outerwear.

Read more here.

At a protest

The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech and assembly.

That means you can’t be punished for what you say — even if it’s controversial.

There are some restrictions, though. That right doesn’t apply if you’re inciting violence. You also don’t have equal rights to gather at any location you choose.

Your best bet are places called “public forums,” such as parks, streets and sidewalks, and public plazas in front of government buildings.

You can be kicked off private property for protesting there, and even charged with trespassing.

Find out more here.

At the border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, has the authority to operate within 100 miles of all U.S. boundaries, including our borders with Mexico and Canada, according to the ACLU.

That means CBP can pull you over anytime you’re driving in that 100-mile zone. But just like any traffic stop, you have rights. They can’t just pull you over for no reason.

Your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights — the ones that protect you against unreasonable searches and seizures — they’re still the same here.

Officers need to be able to show you why they pulled you over in the first place. It can’t be because of what you look like.

Read on here.

At a hospital

While many hospitals have their own patient bill of rights (which you should be able to see by request), you should know that you have a whole bunch of legal protections here, too.

A lot of the legal protections at hospitals fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, which is meant to protect your privacy and medical records.

In addition, hospitals that get federal funding can’t discriminate based on race, religion, sexual orientation and the like.

If you’re being talked down to, or left without pain medication, that’s a violation of this right. It happens a lot more than you’d think.

It’s important to speak up for yourself if you think that’s happening.

Read more here.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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