Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog



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.


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Anonymous Brett Procek said...

Hi Shawn. Thanks for your insights on this blog. You were always a thoughtful kind of guy, guided by a good moral conscience.

I'm very thankful for the everyday freedoms we enjoy as Americans. I often worry, though, that Americans have forgotten who laid the foundation of the freedoms we have. The first words of our constitution compel me to believe that the western concepts of freedom come from a distinctly Christian worldview. The ideas that "all men are created equal", the focus on the individual, and limits on state power are largely Christian ideas.

Chuck Colson, the late Christian apologist recently wrote:

'Another way that Christianity contributed to our concept of freedom was its stress on the individual, especially in the moral realm. The Christian idea of Free Will meant that, instead of being captives to fate, people were responsible for their actions and choices. As a result, people increasingly saw themselves as having control over their lives. Western ideas about freedom are rooted in this Christian understanding of the individual.'

Not only am I thankful for my freedoms, but, ultimately, I know from Whom they come from.

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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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