Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Religion and Politics...

By Shawn Healy
The two topics forbiden in the company of strangers, or with those whom you share conflicting viewpoints or denominations. In a presidential race where we have the most formidable female and African-American candidates to date, the issue of religion has also entered the fray on the Republican side of the aisle. Although former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is not the first Mormon to seek the White House (Senator Orrin Hatch ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2000), his status as one of three frontrunners in a deep field of contenders has elevated the issue of religion in this elongated contest.

Many Americans seem more willing to vote for a female or African-American candidate than a Mormon, and this brings back memories of John Kennedy's successful run in 1960 as the first Catholic President in history, or Al Smith's losing bid in 1928 as the first Catholic major party nominee. Joe Lieberman's unsuccessful run as Al Gore's VP in 2000 brought similar attention to the issue, but an overwhelming number of American stated that his Orthodox Judaism presented no barriers for them in the voting booth. For many, it actually enhanced his status.

Why then are a large segment of Americans reversing course and concluding that they could not support a Mormon? Is this bias tied to historic misconceptions? Fear of the unknown? It is my hope that these answers will emerge in the coming months, and whoever receives the respective nominations of both parties is judged by their respective policy positions and qualifications for office, and not the color of their skin, their gender, or what house of worship they frequent, or ignore altogether.


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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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