Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Nativity Story: Episode IV

By Shawn Healy
The Mayor's Office of Special Events finally conceded in the ridiculous battle over the screening of "The Nativty Story" at Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza in Chicago. They turned down the $12,000 offer initially for three separate reasons: 1) the film might offend non-Christians; 2) its blatant commercial message; and 3) pedestrian safety. I commented upon the screening's constitutionality in an earlier posting, and congratulate the city for finally getting it right, just in time for Christmas.


Harry Triumphs, but Attempts to "Quiet" Our Libraries Continue

By Shawn Healy
I wrote about Laura Mallory's attempt to have Harry Potter removed from Gwinnett County school libraries and classrooms in my October 6th posting. Thankfully, she struck out in her third pitch to have the series removed on the account that it establishes an official religion (the Wiccan faith).

On a discouraging note, the Manatee (FL) County library system will block access to MySpace and other social networking sites. While consistent with its current prohibition of email and chat rooms, the library board fails to see the useful dimensions of online discourse and community-building. Many without home access to computers and the internet will be shunned from imperative social interactions of the Information Age.



By Shawn Healy

Today we celebrate the 215th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Our signature artwork at the Freedom Museum, 12.15.1791 (see image to the left), marks this monumental event. The sculpture features a hanging timeline of paper-like metal plates with inscriptions of common people exercising their First Amendment rights from 1791 through present-day.

The 45 words of the First Amendment have weathered the test of time, as relevant in an age of individual pamphleteers of the colonial era as it is to an army of bloggers in the digital age. The five freedoms matter more now than ever as the mechanisms of communication evolve at an exponential pace, those 45 words buoying us through this raging sea.

When we construct a multi-denominational display representing a myriad of faiths during the holiday season we utitlize our freedom of religion.

When we wear a t-shirt denouncing the President or the Iraq war we exercise our freedom of speech.

When we publish our daily musings on indvidual web logs we invoke the freedom of the press.

When we gather at Federal Plaza in Chicago to protest current immigration policies we enjoy our freedom to assemble.

When we write our alderman to voice our disgust for the latest nanny state measure to pass the city council we use our freedom of petition.

Only by understanding, valuing, and exercising our five freedoms will we protect them for future generations. Bill of Rights Day is the perfect occasion to pay homage to the bellwether of freedom in America, the First Amendment.


Interface Radio Program at Roosevelt University

By Shawn Healy
Click here to listen to a radio interview I conducted this afternoon with Professors Arny Reichler and Brad Hunt of Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Berman's Reponse

By Shawn Healy
Yesterday's posting caught the attention of Middle East scholar Ilan Berman. I referenced his book at the outset and unfortunately failed to fully articulate his central hypothesis. His response follows:


Caught your post on the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum blog earlier today, and thought I would clarify something. First off, thanks for the reference to my book... it is certainly appreciated. However, in its pages, I don't actually advocate "engagement" the way you lay out (and certainly not the way the ISG does). Rather, I talk about the need to communicate better and interact more -- with the Iranian people, not the country's government.

The way I see it, a serious Iran strategy starts with two things: first, to slow down Iran's nuclear "clock" and make it more complicated for Iran's ayatollahs to get the "bomb." Second, and equally critical, however, is for us to use that window of opportunity to change the finger that will ultimately be on the nuclear trigger -- that is, assist a fundamental political transformation in Tehran.

I think you'll agree, this is not typical engagement. And, I am confident, not something that Secretary Baker would ever advocate!

Best regards,
Ilan Berman


Tehran Rising

By Shawn Healy
The title of this post is borrowed from Ilan Berman's recent book on Iran's emergence as a global power and what this means to the United States. Propped up by oil exports and the elimination of historic enemies in the Middle East (the Taliban and Saddam Hussein), Iran's influence in the region and elsewhere is unprecedented, and Berman urges engagement and a strategy that extends their timetable for nuclear weapons acquisition.

The Iraq Study Group also called for US engagement with the second component of the so-called "Axis of Evil" (North Korea is a topic for another day) in an attempt to end the sectarian violence that has crippled post-invasion Iraq.

Although these suggestions are probably practical, Iran's recent shennanigans are cause for concern. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad convened a Holocaust conference in Tehran this week to debate what he considers a "myth." This from a man who seeks to wipe Israel off the map. In a wary sign of diplomacy, the US did have one representative on hand, former Klan leader and presidential candidate David Duke...

While I by no means condone the prohibition of such undertakings as would be the case if the conference were held in Paris (Germany too, but an exception is warranted), the US should be wary of any affiliation with a country who seeks the destruction of our historic ally, a lone voice for democracy in the Middle East. Moreover, must we bargain with Iran to discontinue their support of terrorist groups throughout the world? Such an olive branch will only strengthen their hand and lend credibility to disgusting undertakings like calling a conference of anti-Semites to further threaten a historically marginalized religion and country.


Trees Back in Whoville

By Shawn Healy
Sea-Tac airport officials decided to bring back the 14 Christmas trees removed in response to a lawsuit filed by a Jewish rabbi. In response to popular uproar and the rabbi's mere desire to include a menorah, the Grinch righted his course and brought back Christmas. The menorah won't make an appearance this year as it should, but airport officials promise a more inclusive display next season.


Spineless in Seattle

By Shawn Healy
Nothing like adding fuel to the fire in the so-called "Christmas wars." Seattle-Tacoma Airport, in response to a lawsuit filed by a local Jewish rabbi seeking to add a menorah to the existing assemblage of nine Christmas trees, reacted in knee-jerk fashion by removing the decorations by night, igniting international attention and outrage. Unfortunately, the rabbi will likely take the brunt of the blame for this incident, but such rage is misplaced. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky was not offended by the trees nor did he seek their removal. Rather than explore an inclusive and constitutional solution to a simplistic request, airport authories acted spinelessly and deserve the global mockery their cowardice invites.


Censors Run Wild at Kansas State

By Shawn Healy
Last year's Hosty v. Carter decision in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck a blow to student press rights at the collegiate level. It applied the Hazelwood high school predecent to college newspapers, enabling administrative censorship prior to publication for legitimate pedagogical reasons. The impact of this decision is limited to the three-state region of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, but a recent case in the 10th Circuit presents another challenge.

A current case considers the dismissal of a Kansas State newspaper advisor after administrators conducted a content analysis of the Collegian. Finding the quality "overall lacking," advisor Ron Johnson lost his job and the student editors proceeded to file suit, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights. This decision could have far-reaching implications for campus newspapers, especially if the verdict is appealed and accepted for review by the Supreme Court.

I tackled this issue in a journal article set to run in the April 2007 edition of Political Science and Politics, and promise to publish it here in complete form at that time. The bitter irony is that student press rights are increasingly restricted in an environment where they must learn the rigors of the evolving news industry. Restrictive measures shield students from the realities of the challenging landscape they will be ill-prepared to enter.


First Freedom Under High Court Scrutiny

By Shawn Healy
The Court's shrinking caseload has disappointed First Amendment followers in recent years with a dearth of cases invoking the five freedoms. Recent activity suggests otherwise. In addition to the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, the Supreme Court earlier heard a case involving union dues as a form of political speech, and on Friday granted cert to a case considering taxpayer standing to file suit when one feels executive action violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

One must typically show harm to file suit against a given law, but the Supreme Court made an exception to this in 1968 when it comes to the Establishment Clause. One's status as a taxpayer was deemed sufficient. The case involves the constitutionality of Bush's faith-based initiatives, and while it does not directly interpret the Establishment Clause, a ruling favorable to the executive could open the door for a more direct relationship between church and state by curtailing citizen lawsuits.

Bringing Jesus Back

By Shawn Healy
The Christian Science Monitor contends that Christ is returning to Christmas in the form of nativity scenes in the public square and retail outlets re-emphasizing the event tied to Black Friday and the commericial flourish that follows. Although they failed to mention Chicago's exclusion of a screening of The Nativity Story at Daley Plaza's Christkindlmarket, cities elsewhere are apparently developing an awareness of the bounds of the First Amendment. Religious displays are not forbidden when couched with other non-secular symbols of the holiday season and/ or accompanied by emblems of other faiths. Moreover, consumers who feel that retailers have declared "war" on Christmas have taken it upon themselves to articulate deep-seated frustration with their feet, shopping at alternative venues, spending the almighty dollar elsewhere. In this holiday season money talks.


Bong Hits 4 Jesus

By Shawn Healy
The Supreme Court granted cert today to the second First Amendment-related case of the current term. The controversy occurred in Juneau, Alaska, in January 2002 as the olympic torch made its way through the community. Students were allowed to skip class to attend the parade, and one student, Joseph Frederick, took advantage of this opportunity, standing on the sidewalk across the street from school and unfurling a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The school principal, Deborah Morse, proceeded to request that the banner be taken down, and upon refusal, the student was ultimately suspended for 10 days.

He filed suit, seeking the removal of this incident from his records and financial compensation. He lost at the district level, but won in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kenneth Starr (of Clinton and Lewinskygate fame) decided to represent the school district free of charge and sought Supreme Court review of the verdict. His wish was granted, and the Court will consider this case in late February, with a decision expected by the end of June.

The issue here is twofold. One, did the student's "pro-drug" message represent a substantial disruption to the school environment to justify punishment for political speech? Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) created this exception, and it was later applied in both Bethel v. Fraser (1986) and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1987).

The second issue is one of jurisdiction. Does a school adminstrator have the right to punish students for speech and expressive behavior that occurs off-campus? Social networking sites and blogs have brought this issue to the fore recently, and although this case assumes a more classic example of expressive speech, the precedent that emerges from the Juneau case could implicate a plethora of digital age issues.

We'll be tracking this issue laboriously over the coming months, so visit this blog, our timely news feed on our museum web site, and a special exhibit scheduled to open in February highlighting student work in line with the five freedoms of the First Amendment.


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