Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Celebrate Constitution Day

By Shawn Healy
Regardless of where we stand as Americans in relation to the war on terrorism, our world changed fundamentally on September 11, 2001. Age-old legal constructs were and continue to be tested as the nation assumes a war footing against an enemy larger than any one country. These debates all fall beneath the umbrella of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Bush Administration authorized the secret wiretapping of domestic phone calls to investigate terrorist threats shortly after the 9-11 attacks. The program's revelation prompted a series of legal challenges from citizens and Congress, alleging a violation of one's right to privacy implied by the Fourth Amendment and other selected amendments. Congress and the courts will likely have the final word, looking to the past and our original documents and applying them to our changing world.

In a related development, the First Amendment freedom of the press has come under intense scrutiny in light of revelations of White House programs like domestic wiretapping, the monitoring of international financial transactions, and secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. What are the limits on press freedom during times of war? Does the revelation of secret government programs jeopardize national security or embolden the populace to hold elected officials accountable for potential violations of civil liberties? Administration officials and select members of Congress have since rebuked these reporters and the newspapers who employ them, but shades of grey remain.

The United States Supreme Court concluded their recent term by issuing the Hamdan decision. A 5-4 majority deemed the Bush Administration's program of detaining enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay with a plan to try them before military commissions lacking the range of protections extended to defendants in civilian courts a breach of the separation of powers doctrine defined in the Constitution in 1787. The President arguably usurped congressional authority in the area of war powers and due process of law.

This debate and others endure in changing times as Americans attempt in the words of the Constitution's Preamble to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. " Each generation is charged with the task of acknowledging, treasuring, and defending the Constitution, for freedom mandates responsibility, a fulfillment of the social contract signed on September 17th.

Our continuous consent to this contract requires us to travel to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 and to immerse ourselves in the debates of the delegates over the structure of our national government that perseveres to this day. Fifty-five men from all of the original thirteen states but Rhode Island met from May 25th through September 17th to draft the United States Constitution, our second government charter after the failed Articles of Confederation. It was here that the framers struggled with the notion of a balance of power between three separate branches of government, the shared military authority between Congress and the President, and a Supreme Court that would interpret the meaning of this document across time.

September 17th is significant because it commemorates the day when thirty-nine men placed their names on the final document and sent it to Congress to facilitate the ratification process. Congress submitted the Constitution to the states eleven days later, and each called special conventions for the purpose of consenting to a social contract with "We the People." Delaware was the first state to climb aboard on December 7, 1787, and New Hampshire became the requisite ninth state to ratify on June 21, 1788. The consent of Virginia and New York, the nation's most populous states at the time, was deemed essential to legitimize the document, and a series of opinion-editorial pieces known as the Federalist Papers written under the pseudonym of Publius appeared in major dailies urging ratification. They succeeded by June 26, 1788, but heeded the calls of opponents in these states and others to add a bill of rights to the document as soon as the First Congress assumed office.

Virginia Congressman James Madison, credited as the architect of the Constitution and one of three authors of the Federalist Papers, embraced the task of drafting what became the Bill of Rights, proposing twelve amendments to the original document from the plethora of recommendations stemming from state ratifying conventions. The first two amendments were not ratified immediately, but the subsequent ten formed what we call the Bill of Rights, and were formally added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791.

The brilliance of this document and its recipient amendments is its flexibility across time, establishing formalized structures through which we can debate contemporary controversies, pass legislation and spur executive action, protect individual liberties, and modify its meaning to correct debilitating defects. Recent events have only cemented this notion.


Blogger The Creative America Team said...

ellow Champions of the First Amendment -

I just finished my training as a Freedom Ambassador for the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum. I'm 54 and a former Shakespearean actor, theater producer, community organizer and political organizer. I'm teaching two classes at DePaul's School for New Learning that are directly related to the work of the Foundation and the Museum: "How To Be A Cultural Activist" and "Who's Lying To You Now?" (an investigation of critical thinking and the media/civic landscape).

I recently learned of the jailing of an independent journalist/blogger named Josh Wolf. Mr. Wolf is 24 and was covering a protest against the G8 and globalization. This protest took place in San Francisco last summer and Mr. Wolf videotaped the event and posted footage on his own blog as well as selling footage to other media outlets. The federal authorities asked for his raw footage because they thought he might have captured the attempted burning of a police car. He refused and was jailed. The Tribune's Phil Rosenthal wrote a column on Mr. Wolf August 25 (see below).

In mid-August I wrote to Josh, sending the letter to the California prison where he has been jailed since early August. I asked what I could to do to help him. He wrote back that "the most profound thing that those outside the Bay area can do is write a letter to the Editor of their local newspapers urging them to adopt a formal statement of support for my stance. This case could have serious repercussions for the future of journalism and I think every paper across the country should recognize that."

Based on everything I've learned over the eight weeks of instruction and dialog with your most excellent and deeply committed staff, it appears very plain that this case is an affront to the First Amendment and represents a new and ominous threat to an independent and fearless press. During the Freedom Ambassador training I learned that in 1931 Col. McCormick funded the defense of a small newspaper against the over-reaching restraint of government. I learned that the successful defense lead to a landmark Supreme Court decision, Near v. Minnesota, that caused the First Amendment to be applied to the states.

It seems that it's time for the enterprises that are the Colonel's legacy - the newspaper, the foundation and the museum - to contribute to Josh Wolf's defense in word and deed. The paper should editorialize on the dangers of this action, the foundation should fund his defense and the museum should educate around the incident.

As we are reminded every time we walk into the lobby of the Tribune Tower - "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that can not be limited without being lost." - Thomas Jefferson

Tom Tresser
Wiki site dedicated to Josh:

"Journalists give support to jailed indie colleague"

Phil Rosenthal - Chicago Tribune -August 25, 2006

Joshua Wolf is 24, a blogger, a freelance video journalist and in a federal prison, held without bail since being taken into custody Aug. 1.

His crime? He doesn't believe the Feds should be able to co-opt journalists into becoming government agents, helping it build its legal cases. To do so would make journalists targets rather than observers in dangerous situations, to say nothing of making it all but impossible for reporters to get sensitive material from sources.

That's why Wolf has refused to surrender his raw footage--the video equivalent of a reporter's notebook--from an anarchist protest he covered last summer in which someone threw a firecracker at a police car and a police officer was injured.

On Friday in Chicago, half a continent from Wolf's cell in Dublin, Calif., the Society of Professional Journalists will show its support by announcing at its convention it is giving Wolf $30,000 to help pay his mounting bills, said to exceed $75,000.

Thirty grand may not sound like a ton of money. But according to SPJ President David Carlson, it is the largest grant in the history of the 97-year-old organization's legal defense fund by a sizable amount.

Beyond helping Wolf, who could remain behind bars until the term of the grand jury investigating the incident expires next summer, the SPJ wants to bring attention to the need for federal shield protection for journalists so they can't be pressured by prosecutors and the courts into handing over their materials.

Carlson suspects the reason Wolf hasn't gotten a lot of notice nationally is because another Bay Area case in a similar vein has overshadowed him.

San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada are waging a far more prominent fight of their own federal subpoena that would force them to reveal who leaked them grand jury testimony concerning the steroid investigation involving pro baseball star Barry Bonds. They, too, could find themselves behind bars.

Dan Siegel of Oakland's Siegel & Yee, which is representing Wolf and already has devoted more than 500 hours to the case, also noted: "The mainstream media as a whole may not view Josh Wolf as one of their own, being an indie media guy and working in what we used to call the underground press."

Both San Francisco-area cases, however, are emblematic of the ever-tightening tug of war between the government and the press, with both sides arguing they need latitude because they're working on the public's behalf.

The idea that the federal government stomped into the breech when San Francisco officials didn't prosecute this case, an end run on protections the press enjoys in California and every state but Wyoming, is frightening to many. The suspicion is the government wants to identify who is in the crowd.

"You don't normally see the entire weight of the Justice Department investigating the crime of throwing a firecracker at a police car," Siegel said.

The California Assembly voted 76-0 this week on a non-binding resolution urging Congress to enact a federal shield law. The SPJ, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed briefs in support of Wolf, whose case has been sent to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Wolf, meanwhile, waits in his cage, standing on a principle about which we should all care. The press isn't always popular, but it's the 1st Amendment for a reason.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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