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Know Your Rights 101

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel your rights are being violated? Have you wondered what you can do? This guide will help you understand your rights and protections under the law.

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Your Rights Matter!

This guide is a tool for you to learn about your basic rights and to keep you safe and prepared in the event that your rights are ever violated.

The main point is that you have rights! If you think something unfair is happening to you and your rights are being violated – there are actions you can take. The guide aims to point you to resources and information where you can learn more based on your specific situation or questions about rights. 

Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution

Everyone in the U.S. has basic rights under the U.S. Constitution. One place to start when learning about your rights is with The Bill of Rights, which is the first 10 amendments to the U.S Constitution.



First Amendment: Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, the right to assemble, the right to petition the government.

Second Amendment: Congress can’t stop people from having and carrying weapons.

Third Amendment: You don’t have to let soldiers live in your house, except if there is a war, and even then Congress needs to pass a law and set the rules.

Fourth Amendment: Protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Fifth Amendment: No one can be tried for a serious crime unless indicted (accused) by a grand jury. No one can be forced to testify against herself or himself. No one can be punished without due process of law. People must be paid for property taken for public use

Sixth Amendment: People have a right to a speedy trial, to legal counsel, and to confront their accusers.

Seventh Amendment: People have the right to a jury trial in civil suits exceeding $20.

Eighth Amendment: Protection against excessive bail (money to release a person from jail), stiff fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

Ninth Amendment: Rights that are enumerated cannot infringe upon rights that are not listed in the Constitution.

Tenth Amendment: Anything that the Constitution doesn’t say that Congress can do, is left up to the states and to the people.

Rights for Protected Groups and NYC Human Rights Law

There are some rights that everyone is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. However, legal protections and rights can vary by state and by city. It is important to know your rights in the place where you live.


NYC Human Rights Law does not allow discrimination in NYC for the areas of:


Click the image below to see the groups that are protected under each of these areas. If you think you are experiencing discrimination because of one of these areas, don’t forget that you have rights! 

To report an incident of discrimination: call 311 and say “human rights” or call directly at (212) 416-0197. You may also report discrimination online.

Rights for Women and Gender-Expansive Persons in NYC

NYC Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination from employers, housing, and providers of public accommodations on the basis of:

  • Sexism and gender 
  • Pregnancy
  • Caregiver status for children or family
  • Survivors of domestic violence, sex offenses, and stalking
  • Presence of children 


For detailed information, see the Women’s Rights Brochure and the Protections Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Brochure.

What to Do if Your Rights Are Violated

If You’re Stopped by the Police (NYCLU) – know that you have the right to remain silent!

Potential scenarios:

  • If you have a police encounter
  • If you are stopped, questioned, and/or frisked
  • If you are stopped in your car
  • If police come to your home
  • If you are arrested or taken to a police station

Remain calm. Take deep breaths.
One helpful breathing technique to help you stay calm is called “box” or “square breathing” and goes like this:

  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Hold for 4 seconds
  • Exhale for 4 seconds
  • Pause for 4 seconds

Learn More About Your Rights

National Rights in the United States

The following are scenarios and basic rights under the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws provided by the ACLU. Click the links according to your own identity and needs.

Disability Rights | Immigrants’ Rights | LGBTQ Rights | Prisoners’ Rights | Protesters’ Rights | Race, Ethnicity, or National Origin-Based Discrimination | Sex Discrimination | Stopped by the Police | Students’ Rights

Take Action: Protect Your Rights and Advocate for Expanded Rights

Despite how various “rights” become protected under the law, there needs to be a sustained advocacy from social movements to produce meaningful material changes in people’s lives.

Organize a Tenant Association
The right of tenants to organize into associations is specifically protected by the laws of New York State, as well as the Constitution of the United States.

Join a Union
Unions are about building power and making workplaces better, which includes protecting your rights and the things you care about like affordable health care and fair pay. Unions are one of the best examples of the importance of collective power and organizing. 

Advocate for Expanded Voting Rights

Support Candidates Who Want to Uphold or Expand Your Rights

  • Vote! Find everything you need to know at
  • Volunteer with Rock The Vote to help register young voters and defend voting rights! 
  • Get Out the Vote (GOTV) through Mobilize.

Get Free Legal Assistance: Find Options

Further Suggested Reading

Community Resources for Immigrant New Yorkers

The New York Immigration Coalition provides a number of community resources for immigrant New Yorkers, including: a Know Your Rights poster; Know Your Rights Wallet Cards; trainings; and updates on programs that connect immigrant New Yorkers with other resources throughout the state.

Know Your Rights

The NYCLU provides this extensive collection of materials and scenarios to help New Yorkers understand their rights and respond when they are violated.

The Bill of Rights: A Brief History by ACLU

First Amendment

This one-minute video from PBS Learning Media's Civics 101 series focuses on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.