Civic Duty

The privileges bestowed on those who receive U.S. citizenship are many. But with these privileges comes a great deal of responsibility. These responsibilities are referred to as civic duties, a set of obligations citizens are expected to fulfill throughout their lives. This article will discuss what these duties entail, why they are important, and why they are fundamental to American democracy.       

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Table of contents

    The Meaning of Civic Duty

    Civic duties are rights and responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with living in a prosperous, democratic society. To carry out one's civic duty is to honor the implicit contract between the government and the people. Examples of civic duties include serving on a jury, voting in elections, or participating in community service projects.

    Civic Duty Obligations and Responsibilities

    Civic duties are divided into two categories - obligations and responsibilities. The former is a requirement by law, while the latter though not mandatory, are important ways for all citizens to get involved. Some civic duties and responsibilities extend to every community member, regardless if they are citizens. Everyone must obey laws and pay taxes, while voting and jury duty is reserved for citizens. The following section will highlight several of these obligations and responsibilities.

    Civic Duty, A voting sign on a bike, StudySmarterVoting in the United States Photo: Flickr Public domain/no copyright

    Civic Duty Obligations

    Civic obligations are actions citizens must take to participate in society and avoid legal repercussions.

    • Obeying the Law: Citizens must follow federal, state, and local laws and abide by the U.S. Constitution. Obeying traffic signals is an example. By complying with road regulations, citizens keep themselves out of danger and protect others. Abiding by laws also includes allegiance to the United States and the Constitution. A citizen has a civic obligation, for instance, not to work as a spy for another country against the U.S.

    The laws of the United States change frequently. It is the responsibility of each citizen to be aware of any changes in the law

    • Jury Duty: Individuals charged with a crime have the constitutional right to a speedy and fair trial before a jury of peers. It, therefore, becomes the responsibility of citizens to fulfill this role. Prospective jurors are issued a summons that calls them to the court for an interview. Not everyone summoned for jury duty will serve. But all citizens 18 and older must participate if called upon. While there are situations where a citizen may ask to be excused, skipping out on jury duty can result in fines. Citizens must also serve as witnesses in trials if asked to do so by a court of law.
    • Taxes: Citizens are responsible for reporting their income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and paying federal, state, and local taxes. Tax collection keeps the government up and running and pays for essential services like clean water, paved roads, schools, and the police and fire departments.
    • Education: Child citizens are required by law to obtain an education. This civic obligation can be satisfied by attending school or an alternative method (i.e., homeschooling, distance learning). By attending school, citizens commit to developing the skills needed to contribute to and function effectively in society.
    • Defense of the United States: Citizens are required to defend the United States if called upon. While participation in the military is voluntary, registering for the selective service (also known as the draft) is required for men aged 18-25. The federal government reserves the right to call upon those registered for military duty.

    Civic Duty Responsibilities

    Civic responsibilities are not required but are fundamental ways to contribute to society.

    • Voting: Though not required in the United States, voting is a critically important right for all citizens 18 and older. The first step is registering to vote, but civic responsibility doesn't end at the ballot box. It requires a commitment to learning about candidates and policy initiatives, staying informed about important issues, and educating oneself to make informed decisions. It includes being politically aware, researching and questioning political candidates, and other matters arising during elections to make meaningful decisions.
    • Sharing Concerns and Opinions: An essential component of democracy is citizens' ability to articulate their opinions and voice any concerns they have. An example is contacting the city about a troublesome pothole or a downed power line so it can be repaired.

    Civic Duty, Volunteers helping building a new wall after Hurricane Katrina, StudySmarter

    Volunteers help reassemble a wall destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Flickr no copyright restrictions)
    • Community Service: Getting involved in the community can take many forms. Cleaning up the neighborhood park, volunteering to serve on the local school board, and tutoring children after school are all examples. There are limitless possibilities to suit a variety of interests. All of these involvements show citizens' commitment to their respective communities. Community service also conveys that we all have a role in improving our society.

    • Respect Across Differences: Democratic societies are composed of people who hold diverse beliefs. So citizens must be accepting of those who may not share their same views. A wide range of perspectives and opinions is part of the United States' core identity.

    Oath of Citizenship

    Citizens born in the United States are granted civic duties at birth, with additional responsibilities added later in life. For example, citizens must be at least 18 years of age to vote and serve on a jury. Naturalized citizens are also designated civic duties when they take an oath of allegiance to the United States. This ceremonial oath is the final step before becoming a U.S. citizen.

    “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; …that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; …that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; …that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; …that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; …that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and …that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

    Civic Duty Examples

    There are endless opportunities for citizens to fulfill their civic duties. Examples can be as formal as running for a political office and serving in the U.S. military or as informal as participating in community service projects and speaking up for what you think is right. All of these activities help our society function effectively and reflect the needs and interests of its citizens.

    1. An example for respect across differences: if a neighbor supports a different political party, there is no need for an argument. It is the responsibility of all citizens to accept these differences. People have a right to maintain their values and diverse views often come together to help improve society.
    2. An example for voting: During a presidential election, a citizen would need to learn about candidates at the federal, state, and local levels, understand what they represent, research any referendums or initiatives on the ballot and make careful decisions that consider their interests and society at large before casting a vote.

    Importance of Civic Duty

    US citizenship offers many privileges (e.g. freedoms, protections, and legal rights) but it also comes with significant responsibilities. Carrying out one's civic duties is an essential aspect of upholding the vision and principles of the Founding Fathers. It also helps empower each citizen to become more engaged in civil society, whether it be on the local, state, or federal level of government. Active involvement in the community not only ensures citizens have a voice but also helps strengthen democracy for the rest of society. Conducting civic duties offers all citizens the chance to fulfill the promise of democracy and enhance their respective communities in the process.

    Civic duty - Key takeaways

    • Civic duty is participating in activities that make society stronger
    • Civic duties can be categorized as obligations that are required by law or responsibilities, which are not mandatory but important for the good of society

    • Civic obligations include abiding by the law, paying taxes, jury duty, education, and a willingness to defend the United States.

    • Civic responsibilities include voting, giving feedback and opinions, community service, and respecting differences.

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    Frequently Asked Questions about Civic Duty

    Is voting a civic duty? 

    Yes. Voting is a civic responsibility. In the United States, citizens have the right and responsibility to vote but are not obligated to do so.

    What are the civic duties?

    Civic duties are things people are obligated to do in a given society. If they do not perform these actions, they may face legal action. Civic duties are obeying the law, serving on juries, paying taxes, education, upholding the constitution, and being willing to defend the United States.

    What is the difference between civic duties and civic responsibilities?

    Civic duties are actions that citizens must take to avoid legal repercussions. Obeying the law, serving on juries, paying taxes, attending school, and upholding the law as well as defending the United States are all examples. Civic responsibilities are actions that citizens should do to create a better society, but are not required to. Examples include voting, voicing one's opinion, community service, and having respect for those who may be different.

    What is a civic duty required of U.S. citizens?

    Civic duties required of U.S. citizens are obeying laws, serving on a jury, paying taxes, getting an education, and defending the U.S.

    Is jury duty a civic responsibility?

    No, jury duty is a civic obligation. Citizens must participate in jury duty or face legal repercussions.

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