Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The 9-11 Generation

By Shawn Healy
The Christian Science Monitor reports that volunteering among Americans is at a historic high. This is according to a December 2006 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service. 29% of Americans volunteered in 2005, a 30-year record.

The CNCS hopes to expand the national cadre of volunteers by 10 million by the end of the decade to 75 million strong. Schools at the secondary and collegiate level that require community service contribute to this mix, along with employers like CVS, Best Buy, and Home Depot that provide staff members with free time to volunteer (they benefited from higher rates of retention and productivity as a result).

This uptick is a welcome response to research that suggests the opposite. Robert Putnam's seminal work, Bowling Alone (2000), uses his title to illustrate his central point. While more Americans are bowling than ever before, league membership is in a freefall, symptomatic of a decline in civic organizations and membership across the country. Such "horizontal association" between community members is vital to maintain a vertical relationship with our government, borrowing Putnam's terminology.

The National Conference on Citizenship produced a Sept. 2006 report titled Broken Engagement: America's Civic Health Index. It attempts to create a parallel index for civic engagement like the economic indicators used to evaluate our fiscal health. It includes measures of religious worship, social trust, staying informed, and participating in politics. Volunteering is also part of the mix. The overall indicator presents a precipitous decline over the last 30 years in line with Putnam's hypothesis, but there is evidence of a recent uptick amongst young people, often dubbed the "9-11 Generation." Volunteering is on the rise in this group and others according to CNCS report. Baby boomers and elderly individuals are also part of this mix.

Let's hope this uptick becomes a surge as we rebuild the social fabric of our democratic republic. Democracy means quite literally that the people govern, and minus civic engagement, this social contract is broken. Volunteering represents the height of associational relationships and an engaged populace, so my kudos to the 65 million Americans who give so selflessly. The remaining 235 million, myself included, have work to do. For some ideas, visit the "Get Involved" quadrant of our website and click on the "Do More" bubble.


Milton Friedman Day

By Shawn Healy
Today Americans and economists across the globe celebrate Milton Friedman Day. As I speak a memorial service is being held at the University of Chicago, the Ivy League-calliber school that he made famous for his emphasis on monetary policy instead of fiscal proponents like John Maynard Keynes. He not only won a Nobel Prize for his scholarship, but blazed a path for a secession of peers to lay claim to the prestigious award.

The London-based magazine The Economist is in the midst of a week-long web discussion celebrating his many contributions to the field.

Universities across the country are hosting a "Day of National Debate," and even YouTube is hosting a "Challenge the Status Quo" video contest in honor of the man that made a living doing just this.

John Stossel chronicled each of these events and more in his January, 24, 2007, column posted on

PBS is to air a special this evening titled "The Power of Choice: The Life and Ideas of Milton Friedman." His discovery of the root causes of inflation (poor monetary policy), the connection between capitalism and political freedom, and his advocacy of an all-volunteer army are among the topics this 90-minute documentary intends to explore.

Loudon County, Virginia, went so far as to create a holiday for the famed economist, planning to celebrate his birthday every January 31st. “Loudoun County owes its success to the global economy that Friedman helped create,” Eugene Delgaudio, a county supervisor and sponsor of the resolution, said in a statement. “Without Friedman’s lifelong advocacy of greater individual freedom we would never know the quality of life we enjoy in both Loudoun County and United States.” (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 15, 2006)

Milton Friedman is nothing less than my intellectual hero. He essentially adapted the tenets of Adam Smith's invisible hand to the 20th Century and prevailed in a battle with those who thought the government had answers to all of societal ills. Bill Clinton's statement that the "era of big government was over" was nothing less than an exclamation point on Friedman's career pushing for this very goal. But the battle is far from over. Some of his ideas are still in the experimentation phase, including school vouchers and privatized social security. Others are sincerely threatened, particularly the notion of a global free market where we all benefit from specialization and comparative advantage.

In urge you to watch tonight's PBS special, read one of Friedman's wonderful works (Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose), and engage in a great debate over the fate of our national and world economy. Milton Friedman, a man of short stature, was nonetheless "the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th Centuary...possibly all of it." (according to The Economist) Thankfully, his ideas stand tall even though his mind left us to fend for ourselves.


Up the Right Grove

By Shawn Healy
Representative Dave Upthegrove, a Washington state legislator, has sponsored legislation enhancing student's First Amendment rights in public schools. The bill received its first hearing today, and First Amendment activists everywhere are keeping their eyes in the proverbial ball. The Supreme Court's Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) decision was seen as a major setback for students' expressive rights, and six states acted in the aftermath to essentially overturn this standard and revert back to the Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) "material and substanial disruption" limitation on student speech. If this bill succeeds, Washington would be the seventh state in what will hopefully become part of a pendulum shift back to students.

The bill allows administrative scrutiny over student publications for content that is obscene, defamatory, or disruptive, but places all liability on the students themselves. Educators must play a prominent role in teaching students journalistic responsibility and ethics, but at the same time prepare them for the realities of the real world. This bill reflects these two values.

I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Rep. Upthegrove earlier this month while attending a conference sponsored by J-Ideas in Tampa at the Poynter Institute. His passion for the legislation is admirable, and his efforts were spurred over a cup of coffee he shared with his constituent Brian Schraum, a journalism student at Washington State University. Brian was also in Tampa and spoke eloquently about the need for such legislation based on his experiences as a student journalist at both the high school and college level.

For more information on these developments in Washington State check out the J-Ideas web site. I will keep you posted on the bill's fate, and encourage you to visit the Freedom Museum from February 3rd through March 25th as we debut a special exhibit in the same spirit titled "Speech at the Schoolhouse Gate: Students' Use of First Amendment Freedoms." For those of you who live outside the Chicagoland area, portions of the exhibit will be featured on the Freedom Museum web site.


FIRE in a Crowded Campus

By Shawn Healy
I lamented about the lack of First Amendment freedoms at college campuses across the country in earlier postings. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) compiled a report titled Spotlight on Speech Codes 2006: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses. The findings are chilling, as they-used a three-pronged classification system modeled after a traffic light.

Red-light institutions have at least one policy that "clearly and substantially" abridges the freedom of speech.

Yellow-light institutions are by no means out of the woods, for they have policies that could suppress speech in application.

Green-light institutions, as expected, have no offending policies, but are not necesarily firm proponents of the First Amendment.

Of the 334 institutions of higher learning reviewed, 229 of them were red-light offenders, 91 yellow-light suspects, leaving only 8 on firm First Amendment ground.

Public schools, even though they must abide by the dictates of the First Amendment, are actually more likely to suppress the freedoms its guarantees than their private peers.

Offending policies typically assume one of four forms:
1. Harassment policies.
2. Free speech zones.
3. Disorderly conduct policies.
4. Policies concerning tolerance, respect, and civility.

The institution where I currently attend graduate school, the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of the guilty parties. It created four "free speech zones" on campus, restricting protests to these identified areas and requiring 48 hours advance notice to demonstrate.

I am not alone in my condemnation of such intolerance in institutions of learning founded for the very purpose of expanding our horizons. This editorial in the Indiana Daily Student News recognizes the importance of robust debate from all angles, and it's a bit puzzling that the PhD's in the ivory towers can't come to similar conclusions. I commend FIRE for their admirable efforts and hope you will join them in fanning the flames across our nations campuses.


Chilling Student Speech?

By Shawn Healy
The Illinois House is considering legislation that could curb student speech in the digital world. It would allow schools to punish students for online postings that constitute "reasonable threats." The bill impacts not just computers, but also cell phones and other electronic devices. Although the legislation is written fairly narrowly, I urge lawmakers to act with discretion when regulating the digital universe.

The pace of change in the Information Age is at times overwhelming, and the natural tendency is to emphasize safety and order over liberty and constitutional rights. I urge Representative Cross and his colleagues to hold the line and use the many tools already at their disposal to punish illegal activity. Speech that constitutes an "imminent danger" is not protected, nor is libel, or the purposeful defamation of character. Students should be taught the consequences of irresponsible Internet use and held accountable when they cross the line. The punishing bodies should not be schools, but instead parents, and in the most extreme cases, law enforcement authorities. Schools can play an importatant EDUCATIONAL role.

Lost in the debate are the educational dimenstions on the world wide web. The digitial universe offers a plethora of teaching tools previously inaccessible to teachers and their classrooms. Web logs enable us all to write to a larger audience. Wiki's allow us to engage in the social contruction of knowledge, literally producing an ongoing electronic encyclopedia. Social networking sites promote interconnectedness and even civic engagement as students unite to save Darfur or back Barack Obama for President.

The McCormick Tribune Foundation, in partnership with J-Ideas, will release a user's guide on this topic in about a month. Also, on February 3rd the Freedom Museum will open a special exhibit featuring student work enabled by the First Amendment titled "Speech at the Schoolhouse Gate." It will remain open through March 25t. Until then, contact your state legislator and tell him or her to leave monitoring of the online world to parents and the police.


Foot in Her Mouth?

By Shawn Healy
Foothill High School administrators incited a national uproar when they prematurely ended valedictorian Brittany McComb's graduation speech last June. Her case is one of 24 religious liberty controversies that we highlight in our current exhibit at the Freedom Museum, "Your Faith, My Freedom." It also invited the attention of Chicago Tribune reporter Josh Noel, who quoted me in his article last Friday.

Noel wrote:
In the McComb case, he (Shawn Healy) said, he aimed to present the facts as objectively as possible, in part because he is unsure how he feels about the school's decision.

"If she wants to say the person she admires is Jesus Christ and I want to say that the person I admire is Mayor Daley, I'm not sure there is that much of a difference," he said. "But there's a difference between saying Jesus is important to me and Jesus should be important to you. It's a fine line, and if she didn't cross it, she came very close."

My good friend from high school and college also weighed in, drawing a parallel between McComb's actions and those of our friend Getch, the class clown who was chosen by his peers to deliver the commencement address.
Let me weigh in real quick on the graduation speech. She (the speaker) was told beforehand what could and couldn't be included in the speech, and for that reason I think the school had the right to act as they did. Once she strayed from the framework of what was agreed to before the speech, she openly disrespected the privilege she had been given.

A great example would be our graduation when Getch was picked to speak. A lot of students put a great deal of pressure on him to rebel and change his speech from what the school had agreed to, but Getch understood the privilege he had been given and acted accordingly. Also, in my opinion, a graduation speech is not a platform to be used selfishly to promote one's beliefs.

Although I failed to take as firm of a position as my friend, my mission to make visitors draw their own conclusions about the exhibit was accomplished. At the end of his message, my friend admitted, "Well obviously your example did its job and got me thinking a little."


Happy 78th Birthday MLK!

By Shawn Healy
Today we celebrate the 78th birthday of famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. At the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum we tell the story of freedom in American through the lens of the First Amendment, and no American better epitomizes this narrative than Martin Luther King, Jr. His life embodies the use of the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment.

RELIGION: An ordained minister with a PhD in theology, King used the power of moral suasion to nudge a people away from racial apartheid.

SPEECH: MLK's address atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial gave a benediction to the 1963 March on Washington. His eloquence allowed his words to transcend race, leading to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act one year later.

PRESS: King's 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail protests his arrest for parading without a permit. Through the power of the pen MLK makes a case that an unjust law is no law at all.

ASSEMBLY: King orchestrated a 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand voting rights for all citizens. Demonstrators were heckled, threatened, even beaten (by authorities in some cases). Congress responded with the Voting Rights Act later in the same year.

PETITION: King rose to the forefront of the civil rights movement by coordinating the 1955 boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system after Rosa Parks was denied a seat at the front of the bus. After nine months the city responded by desegregating the system, proving the power of civil disobedience, King's mantra from this point forward.


Focus on Religious Freedom

By Shawn Healy
That's the title of an article in today's Chicago Tribune that focuses on our special exhibit at the Freedom Museum on religious liberty titled "Your Faith, My Freedom." Featured on page 9 of the Metro section in the weekly page devoted to religion, there is a half-page article and captivating photo of visitors engaged with the exhibit. It also includes a few passing quotes from your's truly.

Click here to read the electronic version of the story, and be sure to visit the Freedom Museum before Sunday January 28th when the exhibit closes.


Supreme Court Line-Up

By Shawn Healy
Yesterday's oral arguments in the union dues cases before the Supreme Court lead one to believe that the Washington State Supreme Court's decision will be overturned and the 1992 state law requiring opt-in provisions for non-union members restored. The likely breakdown of the nine justices in an opinion that may take five months to surface are as follows:

Majority (opt-in): Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas (although he didn't speak)

Minority (opt-out): Breyer

On the Fence: Stevens, Souter Ginsberg

Altogether, this is at minimum a 5-4 decision in favor of opt-in, with the potential for an 8-1 or even unanimous decision if Justice Breyer (a reasonable man by all accounts) can be persuaded.

Stay tuned for commentary on the decision as it emerges.


Union Dues on the Docket

By Shawn Healy
I announced that the Supreme Court granted cert to a First Amendment case in September considering the constitutionality of a Washington state law that permits non-union members to opt-in, rather than opt out of union dues used for political purposes.

The teachers involved see the status quo (opt-out only) as an infringment on their right to free speech given the expressive implications of political contributions. The union argues that an opt-in provision is overly cumbersome and threatens the freedom of association implied by the First Amendment. Oral arguments are scheduled for tomorrow, with a decision likely by June.

This former teacher hopes the Court sides with his classroom cohorts. As an educator I was continually frustrated with the one-sided, blatantly ideological, and non-sensical tactics of my union, particularly the national and state entities. I was also forced to join regional and local cohorts. Each entity funneled a portion of my dues (nominal yes, but meaningful nonetheless on a teacher's salary and a violation of principle) to political action committees (PAC's), nothing more than organs of the Democratic Party.

In order to avoid contributing to causes contradicting my political values I was forced to write each organization separately to seek a refund for my PAC contributions. This is incredibly cumbersome, and a great number of my peers had no idea this was even an option. Opt-out provisions fail to protect free speech, and the Court should uphold the Washington law and introduce an opt-in era of free speech.


Gay-Straight Iron Curtain

By Shawn Healy
Yasmin Gonzalez's futile efforts to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Okeechobee (FL) High School were squashed by an adminstrator who said that the school stands for only sexual abstinence and therefore prohibits such an organization. Gonzalez's hope to bring a same-sex date to the school prom was also stymied, and a teacher reportedly said that homosexuals should die. Such an environment is wanting for such an organization, particularly when 500 students expressed their support for Gonzalez's prom proposal, and 50 others signed up for the club.

The 1984 federal Equal Access mandates that schools who allow any extracurricular groups to meet on campus must extend the invitation to all interested parties. The 1990 Mergens decision affirmed this principle, invoking the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech. How ironic that a bill meant to protect religious groups would also benefit those that some of these same individuals comdemn.

My experience as an educator presented similar obstacles in the realm of gay rights. A couple of my students asked for my assistance in forming a gay-straight alliance as they researched the issue of homosexual rights as independent study students in my government class. I consented, believing that students that believed so strongly in a cause should be supported. Their efforts to recruit members in other social studies classes prompted parent phone calls in oppoisition to such a cause. This led to subtle hints from the school administration that we abandon our efforts, and as a non-tenured teacher I bowed to these pressures. It stands as perhaps my biggest regret as I look back upon my six-year career in the classroom.

I commend Yasmin Gonzalez for standing up for constitutionally protected free speech in a school environment and community hostile to her lifestyle and position. I only wish I exhibited similar courage a couple of years ago. Ultimately her cause will prevail, but the barriers will not fall without a principled fight.


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