Exploring the Relationship Between Civic Duties and Responsibilities

I voted stickers in red, white and blue main

Citizens have a special role in society, with extra rights and duties. But, we are all part of society, which brings with it both civic duties and civic responsibilities. Duties are requirements backed up by the force of law, including taxation and jury duty.  Responsibilities are moral duties such as voting, respect for others, and public service.  

Civics: Does It Only Apply To Citizens?

The term “civic” arose from being a member of a city and is closely tied to the word “citizen.”  Many who study civics in school are already citizens.  

A citizen is part of a nation’s political community.  Citizens have the ability to choose their leaders.  They have the power as jurors to put people in jail and decide liability in major civil lawsuits.  They have special rights and privileges.  Citizenship matters.

But, people are allowed to reside in cities while not being citizens.  And, even if you are living in a society without documentation, you are still in some fashion part of it.  If you break the law, unlike a diplomat, you can be punished.  Civics in some sense applies to everyone. 

Civic Duties

A “duty” is a requirement to do something.  A child might have chores. They are “duties” assigned by parents and guardians.  Members of society, especially citizens, also have duties. 

I referenced diplomats.  You might have seen some television show where a plot device arises where someone has “diplomatic immunity” from arrest.  Everyone else does not.  A person can even be charged with treason while voluntarily residing here without being an American citizen.

[1] Following The Law 

A basic civil duty is to follow the law.  This on some level seems obvious but it is a necessity for civil well-being.  If a community decides it is acceptable for some group to be attacked without legal liability – such as regularly happening in the Jim Crow South respecting attacks on black people – serious harm can occur.  A civic duty would be violated without any consequences.  

A civic “duty” can be broken without anything happening. For instance, paying taxes is a basic civic duty. We benefit from a range of things that are paid for with taxes. Many people find a variety of ways to avoid the taxes they owe.  Some cheer these people on.   

[2] Citizen Duties: Jury Duty and Stuff 

Citizens specifically have duties.  Like all duties, this is a sort of “quid pro quo” where the government provides various things in return for something.  

These duties often seem like a pain.  They include jury duty, service in the military (or militia), and certain things like local road work requirements.  At this time, men have to register for selective service, but actual military service is not required (as compared to a place like Israel).

These duties are not banned by the Thirteenth Amendment, which covers slavery and involuntary servitude.  We consent to these duties by being part of this society.  

[3]  Education  

One more civic duty should be added here.  Over time, governments have determined education is a necessary part of being a good citizen.  School might seem like a type of prison, especially as the clock seems to stop in midafternoon, but education is a civic duty in today’s world.  

Civic Responsibilities 

A “responsibility” is a special type of duty.  It is a moral duty.  Morality is a set of principles to determine good and bad behavior.  Civic responsibility is the morality of civic life.  

Civic responsibilities are not enforced by civil or criminal law.  They are taught to us in schools, churches, families, and other ways.  And, everyone has a role in enforcing them.  There is no law that you have to be nice to your mom.  But, you should, and sometimes you are reminded.  

[1] Voting 

Voting is a core civic responsibility. The Duty to Vote by Julia Maskivker provides a philosophical analysis of why we have a civic responsibility to vote.  

We also have a duty more than merely to vote.  We should be informed voters, informing ourselves about the issues, and voting responsibility.  This means voting for someone who will govern well.  We have a right to vote.  We have a civic responsibility to vote wisely.   

And, keeping informed is something non-citizens who are a part of our society have a duty to do.  Likewise, students under the voting age can keep informed and engaged with the issues.  

[2]  Respect of Others 

A responsible member of society respects others.  This does not only mean following the bare minimum of the law, including civil rights laws that ban discrimination when running a business.

It means honoring the well-being and overall equal dignity of each member of society.  It also means respecting the well-being of our society as a whole.  Care for the environment, including not needlessly polluting the air with your car should not only rest with a law against such things.  

[3] Public Service  

Many people believe that civic duty includes such things as respect for the American flag.  

It is appropriate to respect the American flag.  How does one do that?  Merely pledging allegiance is not enough.  The flag is a symbol of our nation.  Public service respects the flag too.

We have a civic responsibility toward public service even if there is no law mandating such service.  Many people, for instance, donate their money and time for a range of public causes, including such things as care for those who are victims of gun violence or families of veterans. 

Final Thoughts 

Civic responsibilities are a special type of duty.  They are duties that are quite important, even if breaches will not lead to money being taken out of your bank account or fear of arrest.  

The public often disdains members of the government because we feel the government does not fulfill its responsibilities.  How often, however, do we?  

A tiny fraction of the public voting for members of Congress on Election Day, for instance, is a civic responsibility failure.  Talk about glass houses/stones.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.