Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Closing the Curtain on Student Speech

By Shawn Healy
One week removed from the drama of the Bong Hits case, the litany of potential abuses of student speech in public schools continues. At Woodlan Junior-Senior High School 10 miles east of Ft. Wayne, IN, journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was suspended for running an editorial in the student paper penned by a sophomore that advocated for gay rights. Principal Ed Yoder has since appointed himself as "publisher" of the paper.

A play interpreting the Iraq War at Wilton (CT) High School was canceled by principal Timothy Canty under concerns about context and balance just one week prior to opening. This follows mandates to include only quotes from well-known people in the school yearbook for fear of cryptic messages, a requirement that all student posters receive adminstrative approval prior to their display, and a blanket ban on bandanas on account of gang connotations.

Such administrative actions are probably defensible under Supreme Court precedent, especially the Hazelwood case from 1988 that enabled censorship of school-sponsored publications and events for "legitimate pedagogical purpose(s)." The Morse v. Frederick (aka Bong Hits) decision may change the student speech landscape, but expect only slight alterations to this balance. Regardless, the age-old clash between students, teachers, and adminstrators continues both within and without the schoolhouse gate.


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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