Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Bughouse Square Debates

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum partnered with the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation to produce last Saturday's Bughouse Square Debates at Washington Square Park. The annual event pays homage to Chicago's free speech tradition associated with this site and the adjacent former Bohemian Dil Pickle Club.

This year's event began with a recitation of Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric." It was performed by three Chicago-area participants in "Poetry Out Loud," the Poetry Foundation's national poetry recitation contest for high school students.

The John Peter Altgeld Award was then presented to Jorge Mujica for his leadership in last year's immigration marches in Chicago. According to Mujica, "everyone in the United States not only has a right to free speech, but the right to exercise it. That's what the marches are all about."

The soapbox portion of the debates then unfolded as 12 speakers alternated on three soapboxes located throughout the park. Among the topics of discussion included: local production of agriculture, socialized transportation, decriminalization of prostitution, popular election of Supreme Court Justices, dogs at outdoor cafes, and the need for neighborhood sex shops.

The declared winner of the Dil Pickle Award was Ed Yohnka of the Illinois chapter of the ACLU for his speech "Why Defend the Offensive? The Importance of Free Speech." In defending the right of the Westboro (KS) Baptist Church to stage funeral protests, Yohnka drew the scorn of a few participants. He let them have their turn at the microphone, kept his composure, and seemingly won the argument.

The program ended with a voter slam facilitated by the Bread and Butter Forum. The participants were given 90-seconds to spout off about the topic of choice, immigration reform. The range of perspectives began with unencumbered borders to mandatory military service for incoming immigrants, even building a wall around Chicago to keep out immigrants from Indiana. Second City members added color commentary to the slam and brought audience members into the mix.

For more extensive coverage of the Debates, see the article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune or today's Washington Post. We hope to see you next year on the final Saturday of July for the next rendition of the Bughouse Square Debates.



By Shawn Healy
The title of Evan McKenzie's tome on the undemocratic tendencies of the governing bodies of common interest developments, namely condo associations. Professor McKenzie illuminates the fact that many common interest developments assume the functional role of small cities, with private streets, sidewalks, parks, even schools. Conflict occurs when civil liberties are tested in such "privatopias."

Thanks to my interaction with Professor McKenzie, I have been following a related free speech case in New Jersey involving restrictions on political yard signs where he has been called as an expert witness. The case has evolved over the past couple of years, and just yesterday the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Twin Rivers Homeowner's Association. In applying a "reasonableness" standard toward the regulation of speech in the affected community of apartments, condos, single-family homes, and businesses, the state high court relegated political speech otherwise afforded "strict scrutiny" (more explanation below) the lowest level of free speech protection as established by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The reasonableness test has been historically applied to nonpublic forums like privately owned shopping malls or company towns. It requires that the affected party show evidence of arbitrary, capricious, or patently discriminatory rules and regulations. By reasonable, the Court means there is a sound connection between the rule and the behavior regulated. The stipulations need not be the best alternative, only reasonable in application.

Political speech is typically afforded the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, namely strict scrutiny. This means that any restriction on speech is presumed unconstitutional. It is up to the government to establish its constitutionality through proving a compelling reason for its use and also that there is no lesser form of restriction that would accomplish the same goal.

The crux here lies in the fact that the Twin Rivers development is without doubt a private enterprise, yet its streets, sidewalks, and other common areas assume city-like qualities. Moreover, individual condos and homes are the functional equivalent of those bordering city streets and sidewalks. Should these individuals suffer restrictions on political speech that would be blatantly unconstitutional on the outside?

True, individuals, couples, and families make independent choices about where to live absent coercion. If they are truly concerned about restrictions on their First Amendment rights, they are free to locate in places where they can live without encumbrances. However, common interest developments are growing exponentially across the country, especially in the Western United States. Nearly 1/6 of Americans now reside in CID's, and if the Twin Rivers ruling is read and replicated elsewhere, they live without full First Amendment rights.


A Dose of Reality

By Shawn Healy
I watched Monday's CNN-YouTube Democratic Presidential Debate with great interest. After all, I am a political junkie who can't turn away from a newspaper profile of a candidate, a campaign ad, and certainly not a debate when eight contenders to be the next leader of the free world share the stage on the same evening. Moreover, my research interests as an academic trend toward examining the impact of new media options on political knowledge and civic engagement. On Monday, old politics (standard candidate forum) met cable news (CNN, still new when compared to the three networks), and intersected with the epitome of new media, YouTube. The results were encouraging.

Overall, the questions asked by voters in 30-second sound bytes were pointed and made it difficult for the candidates to stick to their standard stump speeches and talking points. Although the Iraq War was mentioned, it didn't dominate the debate. Democrats were forced to deal with uncomfortable issues for their constituency, namely high taxes and gun control. John Edwards was forced to explain his opposition to gay marriage, mainly a product of his religious beliefs. To his credit, he said that he struggles with the issue and may be moving closer to his wife, a public advocate for gay marriage.

Two women asked why they couldn't get married. An African-American man asked about the candidates' positions on slavery reparations. He predicted they would dodge the issue, and asked for straight talk. Another asked if Barack Obama was black enough for the African-American community, and if Hillary Clinton registered similarly on the femininity scale.

The questions were also creative, from a snowman and his son asking about global warming, to a musical ballad about taxes, to a man who equated a gun with parenthood.

The candidates themselves submitted their own YouTube videos, although they were overly rehearsed and appeared as little more than clever (some not so clever) campaign ads. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd perhaps came closest to catching the spirit of the new media revolution.

Stepping back for a minute, I commend CNN for embracing this new media option, for it represented a welcome departure from standardized questions scripted by prominent members of the media elite. True, Anderson Cooper fit the bill of the latter, but he was little more than an intermediary for the public at large. The questions represented a diverse audience that trended young, hopefully appealing to a group otherwise alienated and excluded from the process. Here's hoping that other media outlets join CNN by incorporating such citizen journalism into future debates as November 2008 approaches, and also into their broader coverage of the election. I know that I'll be tuned in on Constitution Day (September 17th) when CNN reprises Monday's date with the Democrats with their GOP rivals.


new hope in oregon

By scipio191
From Warren Watson

The Supreme Court is once again playing keepaway with the U.S. Constitution, reducing the First Amendment rights of our sons and daughters in a quirky case that threatens to create a less-democratic environment in our public schools.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court, in Morse v. Frederick, a case involving a cryptic student banner (and labeled as “oddball” by The New York Times), last month whittled away at 38 years of legal precedent and further restricted the First Amendment rights of our students.

The 5-4 decision, marked by angry rhetoric on both sides of the issue, represented another aberration from 1969 when the high court boldly proclaimed in Tinker v. Des Moines that there should be no age restrictions when it comes to free speech and that student First Amendment rights don’t stop at the schoolhouse gate.

Over the last 19 years, the Republican-influenced court has told our students their speech must be civil at all times (Bethel vs. Fraser, 1986). They have told students that their newspapers are subject to arbitrary censorship by their principals (Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier, 1988). Now, in the latest case, dubbed “Bong Hits 4 Jesus, the Supreme Court has told students they are prohibited from speech that might – just might -- be construed as advocating drug use.

Yes, sad times for those who believe that there should be no age limits on free speech, the most important plank in the structure of our Constitution.

And, if the court’s whittlers have their way, free speech will be taken away altogether.

Clarence Thomas, the conservative jurist, said “it cannot seriously be suggested that the First Amendment freedom of speech encompasses a student’s right to speak in public schools.” He talked about the old days when “teachers commanded and students obeyed.”

Such blunderbuss.

Thank goodness many of the nation’s newspapers, bloggers and commentators believe the court – at least Thomas – has overreached this time.

But real optimism that this court activity may be checked sooner rather later comes from the West Coast – in Oregon. Hope will radiate from the Oregon state house on Friday (July 13) when Gov. Ted Kulongoski is expected to sign a historic law guaranteeing free-expression rights to the state’s high school and college journalists.
Oregon is a small state, but the law is a start, trumping most of the high court’s abuses – at least in that state. It shows that not all citizens believe in the ways of the Roberts Supreme Court. In fact, six other states already have such laws and others are being considered in a wide variety of states, including Vermont, Michigan, North Carolina and Indiana. If written broadly enough in the future, these state laws will effectively negate the Supreme Court’s efforts to strip away free speech for our young citizens.

First Amendment and civics advocates see the law as significant and one that might jump-start those similar efforts. In Michigan, a free-expression bill received a big boost earlier this week with the endorsement by the Detroit Free Press, the state’s largest newspaper.

There is further optimism from academia. The president of a major Midwest university has spoken out against the censorship of student journalists at a high school near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jo Ann Gora, Ball State’s president, called the muzzling and discipline of a .teacher – Amy Sorrell – a “dark cloud” over the school “Strangely,” Gora said, “her (Sorrell) belief in the importance of promoting tolerance led to her punishment.”

Bad news. Good news. Such is the tenuous world of the First Amendment in a society bending to the right on the national stage.

The young minds of today’s students are shaped by dialogue and ideas and viewpoints and facts and critical thinking. Kids learn by studying and debating. Young minds must be exposed to an open forum of ideas and issues.

This is how democracy works. This is why students must enjoy the same First Amendment protection as their mothers and fathers.

Yes, a young mind is like a parachute. It functions fully and properly only when it’s open.

Warren Watson is director of J-Ideas, a First Amendment institute in the Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Information and Media at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. J-Ideas supports excellence in student journalism, First Amendment awareness and news literacy.


By Riley Roberts
Thus far, the comparative analysis in which Shawn and I have engaged has been centered around a fairly specific set of topics related to major debates that plague both the US and the UK.

But perhaps it's time to explore something a little more basic. In America, any definition of democracy will generally include at least some mention of the freedoms that allow it to function. In these few blog posts, we have discussed issues related to broader freedoms and the ways in which our respective democracies deal with these issues; now it is time to discuss the freedoms that shape our democracies themselves.

In the USA, a few of the most essential freedoms we enjoy have been enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Of these, one can reasonably argue that some of the most basic are guaranteed by the First Amendment. These five freedoms, descibed in just 45 words total, together consititute the core of democratic ideals. Religion, speech, press, assembly and petition - five vital freedoms, five bastions of democracy, five things that shape the people, institutions, and policies that define us.

But do they exist in Britain? And, if so, in what form?

The answer to the first question is surprisingly simple: yes, each of the celebrated Five Freedoms is alive and well in the United Kingdom. The second question becomes slightly more complex, and it is thus necessary to briefly discuss each freedom in turn:

RELIGION - Unlike the United States, the UK has endured the establishment of at least two major state religions over the years. For centuries, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were ruled by Catholics, and so they lived under the heavy influence of Rome. In the 16th century, however, King Henry VIII famously ended his kingdom's association with Catholicism, and the Anglican Church (or Church of England) became wedded with the state. It is surprising to learn that, technically, this relationship still exists, and the Anglican Church remains the legally-established church of the English state.

In the present day, however, religious freedom is practiced as freely as it is anywhere in the world. Until Gordon Brown took over the premiership last month, all Anglican Bishops were appointed under the authority of the Crown and the Prime Minister (at least nominally), but he has at last formally ceded that right to the Church. No religion - even the established one - receives any public funding, and the wall between church and state that many Americans hold so dear is maintained (in practice) throughout the UK.

SPEECH - While powerful monarchs reigned over the British Isles, freedom of speech was limited at best and nonexistent at worst. Brutal kings and queens - notably Henry VIII, mentioned above - succeeded in curtailing free expression to a shocking degree whenever they felt the need. With a strong monarch and a weak Parliament up until relatively recent times, protections for free speech have been absent for much of British history.

Today, though, speech throughout the UK is at least as robust as it is in America. Even on the floor of the House of Commons, where restraint and decorum might be expected, Members of Parliament can and frequently do exercise this freedom in animated fashion. As with religious freedom (and indeed all British constitutional principles), there is no Bill of Rights to guarantee free speech in perpetuity (although Brown has suggested that one be written). Precedent is law in the UK, and over the years precedent has tended to provide for healthy and vigorous free speech.

PRESS - Ah, the storied English tabloids. As monarchy faded throughout the realm, British newspapers emerged as robust defenders of public (or individual) opinion. In fact, over the years many of the minor papers have become infamous for their tabloid-like coverage.

Yet the marriage of so many things to the government persists. State-owned media outlets such as the BBC, however, long ago cast aside any editorial control the government may once have had. Today, the BBC stands as one of the world's most reputable news organizations, and it frequently runs stories critical of the government that still technically owns it. In practice, the British press is as independent as any, and may be the best in the world.

(One brief side note: it is true that laws related to slander and libel do little to protect the press in the UK, and lawsuits are frequent, but this has little demonstrable effect on the freedom enjoyed by the press as a whole.)

ASSEMBLY - As in America, people have been allowed to assemble peacably in the United Kingdom for many years. Even under the most terrifying monarchs, protests from angry mobs have been difficult to prevent (except through the use of force, which was frequent at times). Over the years, both sides have become tamer - riots and pitchforks have generally ceased to be standard practice, and any use of force on the part of the government has been limited to nonlethal measures employed to disperse dangerous crowds. Protests, and the government's reaction to them, are very similar to those in the United States and other free democracies.

PETITION - Though it is becoming a familiar theme in these brief blurbs, I will again merely state that, as Parliamentary practices strengthened and the British crown faded from power, the people's right to petition has come into its own. In fact, I will go even further - one of the very first democratic petitions in the world, at least in a crude sense, might well be the Magna Carta. Signed in 1215 by King John and a number of his nobles, the document represents one of the first in a series of dramatic steps that would eventually lead to full-fledged Parliamentary democracy. The King was compelled (read: coerced) into signing the treaty by a disgruntled group of nobles who wanted their voices to be heard. Certainly, the tactics they used to get their petition to the King were far less than democratic - but at some basic level, a petition is a petition. Today, such coercion is far from necessary, and Britons may exercise this vital right as freely as they see fit.

From these brief explorations of the Five Freedoms, we can easily see that, while the precise nature of each may be different 'across the pond,' the democratic freedoms that we enjoy in America also exist in the United Kingdom. Historically, these freedoms have come into being at different times and for different reasons, but the essential democratic spirit of each remains. I suppose it's exactly as you might expect; both the US and the UK have working democracies, though the mechanism that powers each is different - similarly, these five freedoms persist in both, though some distinctions must necessarily be made between the two.

At the heart of this blog entry is the essential fact that, regardless of differences, the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment remain vital to the survival of democracy. Clearly, study of the UK's system proves that such values are not necessarily unique to America, though constitutional protections for these values may well be. Each of the Five Freedoms is an integral part of any democracy - so integral, in fact, that each has arisen in democratic systems an ocean away from one another and, in some cases, centuries apart.

The fact that these freedoms are not static is further evidence of their importance. At the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, we are dedicated to the preservation of these freedoms and to showcasing the ongoing struggle to define each one of them. This history - the history of the UK and the USA and all other democratic societies - is a relevant part of that mission.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to explore the Museum's website and our beautiful space in Chicago's Tribune Tower for further information.


Guns 'R U.S.

By Shawn Healy
Riley's post illuminates the stark contrast between gun policies in the United States and Great Britain, differences attributed to both American culture and our Constitution. The United States was a nation borne through the rifle as colonists took up arms against the Mother Country and at the end of an eight-year struggle formed the fledgling United States. The original governing document, the Articles of Confederation, said nothing of gun rights, or any other affirmative or negative right for that matter. It was only with the drafting of the Constitution, and the recipient addition of the Bill of Rights as a condition of ratification, that the right to keep and bear arms was institutionalized.

Controversy lies in our contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment, specifically the enacting clause: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state..." Late 18th Century and early 19th Century America was characterized by the lack of a standing army, whose function was instead assumed by state militias composed of citizens who gathered their arms and assumed the call of duty to defend the nation at home and abroad when called upon.

Fast forward to the present-day United States where there now exists a multi-million member voluntary military flanked by state national guards, state, county, and local police officers and sheriffs, even a legion of private security guards. While most of the latter group are not armed, the level of fortified defense in this country would without doubt shock the Founders.

Some argue that our armed military men and women, when coupled with the multi-level police force, constitute a modern state militia, meaning civilians are without a constitutional right to own a firearm. The Ashcroft Justice Department, however, went so far as to negate the legitimacy of the Second Amendment's enacting clause, relying solely on "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The reality on the ground lies between these two absolutist positions. Although the Second Amendment has never been officially incorporated to apply to state and local statutes and ordinances, most states, Illinois included, have affirmed the right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, reasonable (by my estimation) gun control measures have generally withstood constitutional scrutiny like mandatory background checks and waiting periods, limitations on automatic and semi-automatic gun ownership, even local bans on gun possession (see Chicago). A local ban in the District of Columbia, however, was just struck down on Second Amendment grounds with an appeal looming.

An interesting sidebar to these debates is another goal arguably pursued by the Founders through the Second Amendment. How would citizens themselves overthrow a government they deemed corrupt if all weaponry lay in the hands of the state? The argument follows that ordinary citizens must possess firearms not only to defend the nation from threats both within and without, but also from the body itself.

Back to the all or nothing debate. Those who would curtail private gun ownership are confronted by gun rights advocates with the argument that criminalizing gun ownership would leave them in the hands of social miscreants. Gun control advocates respond by suggesting that guns kill people, escalating physical arguments into violent affairs, often inflicting mortal wounds on the heels of a heat of the moment argument. Gun rights supporters ask for the enforcement of existing laws, coupling this with the alleged deterrent effect of an armed populace.

What we are left with is a culture of gun ownership, use (mostly for recreational purposes), and yes, violence, arguably protected by the United States Constitution. State and local initiatives seek to moderate the excesses propagated by pendulum swings in either direction as our Wild West reputation circles the globe. We need look no further than our historic battle with the Lobsterbacks to pinpoint the roots of our gun culture. Teaching an old dog to do new tricks will thus prove difficult.


Gun Rights and Politics in the United Kingdom

By Riley Roberts
For firearm enthusiasts in America, Charlton Heston's "from my cold, dead hands" proposition has long been a fitting answer to proponents of gun control. For advocates of restricting the sale and use of guns, Heston's familiar quotation represents an ongoing struggle, and is the stuff of Michael Moore movies.

Across the pond, however, American "gun nuts" would find themselves strangers in a strange land. In the United Kingdom, there is no high-profile spokesman for the gun movement, and, in fact, there is barely any organized gun lobby whatsoever (there is a National Rifle Association, but it is a mere shadow of its powerful American cousin). In fact, firearm legislation in the UK is perhaps the toughest in the world, and it's supported by a philosophy founded on public safety rather than constitutional law.

Broadly speaking, the right to "keep and bear arms" is basically nonexistent in the UK. Private citizens are allowed to possess certain types of guns for purposes of sport and occupational necessity, provided they are licensed. Permits can be granted by the police for any number of guns, provided that the owner can provide valid reasons for owning each. "Self-defense" has not been considered a valid reason for gun ownership since 1946.

Applying for a gun permit is rigorous and exacting, and consequently many simply do not choose to own firearms. Apart from needing to provide justification for each gun one possesses, one must also prove that one is "fit" to safely own and use them. Anyone who has served a prison term lasting three years or longer - for any offense - is automatically prohibited from owning any kind of firearm for the rest of his/her life. Automatic weapons are completely illegal, as are certain types of shotguns and an assortment of other gun classifications.

All of these measures have been enacted sporadically over the last 90 years or so, in the name of public safety. Even police officers are not allowed to carry guns except on special assignment (we saw a number of bobbies with automatic weapons at the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Prime Minister's residence when we visited).

The result? Put quite simply, it seems to be working. Violent crime in the UK is considered to be extremely rare. In 2005/06, only 766 homicides were reported in England and Wales (including the 52 who died on the July 7 London Underground bombing). That's 1.7 homicides per 100,000 people. Of these 766 deaths, only 50 involved firearms.

In the United States, there were 14,860 homicides in 2005 alone (though one should bear in mind the relative size of the countries being examined). That's 5.5 murders per 100,000. Of these, 68% were reported as gun deaths. Many more gun-related injuries occur each year, however. In 2000, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 52,447 violence-related gun injuries and 23,237 accidental gunshot wounds (statistics not available for the UK).

While it is extremely difficult to quantify factors such as the pervasive "gun culture" that has existed for years in the U.S. and any similar (or opposing) sentiment among British subjects, these statistics seem to suggest some degree of correlation between gun ownership and gun violence. Obviously, a number of additional factors come into play, and there is nothing to suggest that similar restrictions would have a similar effect in the United States (nor am I trying to make such a case). Britain and America, while similar in many respects, also differ sharply in a number of areas, and what works in one country may or may not be viable in the other.

At the moment, however, the British may have found a formula that works for them (whatever the drawbacks). Meanwhile, in the United States, a healthy debate rages on, with the influential NRA taking one side and a vibrant anti-gun lobby in the other corner. Regardless of which side of the debate one identifies with, the British system is worth at least a passing glance - and even in the UK, it should be noted, some controversy remains. Grappling with the personal, societal and constitutional implications of any gun debate may not be easy - but it's what our democracy was designed to do.


Checks, Balances, and the Permanent Campaign

By Shawn Healy
Riley's post on elections and political transition in Great Britain was comprehensive and contained a comparative analysis, so I'll keep my response brief with a focus on the United States. I will assume most readers have an elementary understanding of American elections and the overall constitutional structure.

Americans are asked to go to the polls annually when local and countywide elections are coupled with statewide and federal elections. The latter coincide with even number years, and always involve all seats in the House of Representatives, along with one-third of the U.S. Senate. Presidential elections occur every four years and coincide with House and Senate elections.

Beyond the more sporadic nature of elections in Great Britain, the main difference between the system across the pond and the American experiment is defined by the separation of executive power from the legislative branch. As Riley so aptly demonstrated, executive authority at the monarchical level is only nominal, its locus instead centered in the House of Commons. The President of the United States presides over an independent executive branch. He nominates all members of his cabinet, and this officers are subject to Senate confirmation. The President is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, serves as head of state, and may sign or veto legislation passed by Congress. He is charged with executing these laws.

This constitutional structure is not without grand design, for our initial structure was in reaction to the colonial rule of our British brethren. In attempting to stray so far from monarchical overreach the Continental Congress created a dysfunctional system that gave disproportionate power to state governments and lacked an independent executive. Its failure led to calls for reform and the calling of a constitutional convention to address its shortfalls. The 55 delegates who assembled in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 scrapped the Articles of Confederation and drafted the Constitution that governs us this day.

Back to the future. With the 2006 takeover of Congress by the Democratic Party a distant memory, the 2008 presidential contest is well under way. While most expect the Democrats to retain control, the primary focus is on the crowded field to replace the current occupant of the oval office, a president with Nixonian approval ratings. Polling data suggests a generic Democrat would defeat his or her Republican counterpart if the election were held today. The election itself is a unique one given the fact that no incumbent President or Vice President is seeking the office, the first such contest since 1952 (Eisenhower vs. Stevenson, Act I).

The Democratic field is defined by the strongest female candidate in history, former First Lady and current NY Senator Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama, the junior Illinois Senator and political novice, promises to make this at least a two-horse race with his prolific fundraising skills and ability to inspire the masses in a manner reminiscent of JFK. John Edwards, former North Carolina Senate and VP candidate, leads the polls in Iowa and should also fare well in South Carolina, the first and third contests of the nominating process, making him the dark horse.

The Republican side is even more complicated. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Senator, was the presumptive front runner, but his campaign is faltering with his strong support of the troop surge in Iraq and sponsorship of the immigration reform bill killed in the Senate stymieing his fundraising outreach. Former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads national polls and has premised his campaign on competence and more specifically leadership during the war on terrorism. His moderate positions on abortion and gay marriage may derail his campaign among the core conservatives who vote in key primaries, however.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has surged to leads in Iowa and New Hampshire despite low name recognition nationally and shifting positions on major social issues. His Mormon faith may also cripple his campaign, not to mention his political base, the People's Republic of Massachusetts. The dark horse is former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson of TV's "Law and Order" Fame. In a field lacking an establishment conservative among the front runners, Thompson has a legion of followers even though he has yet to officially enter the race. Whether he is at the height of his popularity or he will play the role of President in Washington, not Hollywood, is among the many answers the next 16 months will reveal.

Taking a step back from the contemporary election environment, political transitions in the US and Great Britain, and the traditions and elections that facilitate them, are evidence that our respective political systems work. Power transcends people and parties as the system stands. Blair's making way from Brown, and Bush's eventual exit for an unknown successor are only the most recent examples.


What Can Brown Do For You?

By Riley Roberts
On Wednesday the 27th of June, I waited outside of Buckingham Palace to see - not the routine Changing of the Guards - but the far more historic Changing of the Prime Ministers. Tony Blair, the United Kingdom's longest-serving PM in recent memory, delivered his resignation and the 'seals of office' to the Queen, and only a few minutes later Gordon Brown, longtime second fiddle to Blair's party leadership, arrived to pick them up.

Thus, with a whimper, the unpopular Blair made his exit - and when two car bombs were discovered in England's capital city only a day later, Brown's tenure began with a narrowly-avoided bang.

It is a peculiarity of the British system that no citizen ever cast a vote for Mr. Brown. This means that, although the United Kingdom operates as a republic, voters arguably have less of a voice in choosing the leader of their government. As long as Brown's party (Labour) maintains a majority in the legislature, their leader becomes the Prime Minister. Although he is expected to call for a full Parliamentary election within about two years, the unpopularity of his predecessor means that, unless things change significantly, Labour is expected to lose its majority and Brown will have to step down.

In order to understand the relationship between the British voter and the Prime Minister, it is first necessary to examine the functioning government as a whole.

It is another peculiarity of the system that allows the UK, a constitutional monarchy, to function without a constitution. Instead, the system relies on old customs and various pieces of constitutional law. The monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) remains nominal head of state, but she 'selects' a prime minister (and other cabinet ministers) to exercise the executive authority that technically still rests with her (though all are actually chosen by Parliament). These ministers are generally drawn from the House of Commons, being the more powerful of the two halves of the bicameral legislature. This is because, at the moment, the House of Lords remains an unelected body (although there has been a good deal of talk about changing this).

It is because of this intricate relationship between monarch and Parliament that British voters have a less opportunity to have a direct effect on who leads their government. In the American system, voters choose between specific candidates for the presidency, while in the UK they merely elect Members of Parliament who then choose a Prime Minister. Granted, in most elections it is fairly clear who will assume the position - thus, it was known that a vote for one's local Labour candidate in the 2001 election was also a vote for Blair (like the US, Britons have a 'first past the post' system with only two major parties). However, unlike in the American system, it is possible for the head of government to resign and be replaced by a candidate upon whom the country has never had the chance to vote - in this case, Brown.

Perhaps the only American president to ascend to office in similar fashion has been Gerald Ford, who was appointed Vice President by Nixon, and thus was never elected to any office in the Executive Branch. All other presidents have been democratically chosen; unlike in Great Britain, the system's design does not allow for this to happen under normal circumstances.

Thus, while British subjects may participate in an electoral process as ' free and fair' as the one we enjoy in the United States, the process can at times seem to hold them at arm's length. The case of Mr. Brown is only the most recent example of such an occurrence - though it should be noted that this is not meant as an indictment of the British system nor an outright criticism of it; rather, I merely intend to explore some relevant differences between British and American democracy. Books have been written about the advantages and disadvantages of each respective system, and that is another topic for another time.

While some in the press have harangued Gordon Brown for his status as an 'unelected' Prime Minister, and while many Americans (including myself) marvel at such a circumstance, the British people seem to be more focused on other things. Their concerns, as a whole, are much more immediate. In the face of a grave terrorist threat and an unstable economic outlook, amidst the uncertainty of Iraq and North Korea, they want to know just one thing: What can Brown do for us?


The Test of Our Age or a Bumper Sticker Slogan?

By Shawn Healy
We have watched with fear as London dodged a bullet (literally a nail and gasoline-filled car bomb) and Glasgow was subsequently, and successfully attacked. While the immediacy of 9-11 has gradually faded into our rear view mirror, recently undermined plots at Ft. Dix and JFK Airport are constant reminders that terrorism is no longer confined to the Middle East.

Most Americans go about their daily business with few interruptions to routines ingrained well before 9-11. We don't have a legacy of terrorism like the British, although we have been subject to periodic attacks both homegrown (Oklahoma City bombing) and imported (the 1993 World Trade Center attack). 9-11 was a sea change of sorts as our government was fundamentally reorganized (Dept. of Homeland Security), law enforcement authorities were provided with more encompassing power (the ever-controversial Patriot Act), we initiated two wars under its auspices (Iraq and Afghanistan), and air travel became more complicated with passenger screening, liquid bans, even racial profiling.

There remain fundamental disagreements, however, about the nature of the ongoing terrorist threat and the appropriate response. Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor," and a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, considers "Islamofascism" the test of our generation. Echoing President Bush's initial response to 9-11, he prefers to "play offense" with international terrorists, to fight them overseas to prevent attacks on the home front. This pro-choice, thrice-divorced New Yorker leads the pack in national polls largely because many on the right consider terrorism the overarching issue in the coming election.

John Edwards, the former Vice Presidential candidate and current contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested in a recent debate that the "war on terror" is little more than a bumper sticker slogan. Beyond calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, Edwards contends that we are less safe since 9-11 on account of misguided and mismanaged wars and an overall failure to combat the issue through law enforcement vehicles, not extra-constitutional means like Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.

The fundamental question of our continued involvement in Iraq brings all of these issues to a head. Regardless of how one feels about the justification for entering the war, we can all agree that Iraq is in a state of civil war. Will an immediate or phased withdrawal force Iraqi leaders and its military to rise to the challenge and enforce a so-far elusive peace? Or will it lead to bloodshed on the scale of genocide and provide a fertile training ground for international terrorism? Recently departed British PM Tony Blair and President Bush argue the latter, but newly enshrined successor Gordon Brown may bring at least a partial retraction of this position. The entire field of Democrats who would replace Bush universally adopt the former position.

The success of the Democratic Party in the midterm congressional elections last fall serves as one indicator that the American public is arguably closer to the Democrats on this issue, and the coming presidential primaries and caucuses, with the general election to follow, will provide second and third opinions coinciding with the seventh anniversary of 9-11.

Across the pond, Blair's Labor Party has waned in popularity as he stood by his American brethren, and Brown's assumption of the mantle provides a two-year test run of staying the course or scaling back in Iraq. British voters will follow with a verdict of their own in 2009.


Trust and Terror

By Riley Roberts
From what little American news I've seen over the past couple of weeks, tidings of the recent failed London car bombs and the Glasgow Airport attack seem to have dominated the headlines. Throughout the UK, BBC affiliates, SKY News channels, and the infamous English tabloids have also pounced on the terror attacks, reverting to round-the-clock coverage and sensational headlines and screen crawls ("London Car Bomb Terror," read one newsstand; another headline screamed "Car Bomb Bid to Kill 1,700 Clubbers").

At first, I was a bit surprised at the way in which most news agencies reacted; after all, the British endured Hitler's nightly blitz for years during the Second World War and scarcely batted an eye. Even more recently, bomb attacks by the Irish Republican Army have rocked some London neighborhoods but barely ruffled the feathers of this "stiff upper lip" population. Why would such alarmism accompany these comparatively minor events?

Once one switches off the BBC and puts down the newspapers, however, one sees in the eyes of the people on the Underground that things really have not changed much. While the government takes swift investigative action and the media tries to get the scoop night and day, the majority of Britons continue about their business relatively unfazed. Some friends and I saw a play on the same night that the car bombs were found, and we walked through Trafalgar Square and down The Haymarket only two hours before the area was cordoned off by police because the vehicles had been discovered.

When we awoke in the morning, apart from the headlines and the police barricades, we found the city very much unchanged - the Underground was as crowded as it had been on the previous day, in spite of the elevated threat and the fact that, over the years, the Tube has been a popular target for terrorists. The streets remained crowded with "holidaymakers" and businesspeople - and, had we not checked the headlines before we left our dormitory on that particular morning, my fellow students and I might have gone through the day oblivious to the attempted attacks.

In addition to the media's reaction and the fortitude exhibited by the British, England's history with terrorism has shaped its government in a number of significant ways. Thanks to extensive closed-circuit television surveillance of the city, London is now the most photographed city in the world (I've heard, though I have found little documented proof, that one is on camera more often that not while in London). Though the cameras drew a certain amount of criticism from privacy advocates when they began to go up, little has been done to limit their use or remove them. As in America, Patriot Act-style policies have also been enacted by the government in order to combat terror - but unlike in the States, many of these measures have been on the books for decades because of IRA attacks. Some police functions of the state have long been at the fore - in various forms at various times - although controversy surrounding privacy rights and questions about personal freedom have long accompanied them.

Such a long history of terrorism informs the ways in which Great Britain reacts to threats and also represents a set of collective experiences vastly different than those of the United States. While these differences are difficult or impossible to quantify, and while the effect that they have (if any) on actual policymaking is tough to measure, comparison between Britain and the U.S. remains essential to understanding both countries as they relate to one another.


Freedom 'Across the Pond'

By Riley Roberts
As a summer intern at the Freedom Museum, I have had the opportunity to contribute to exhibit content as well as this blog on a regular basis. Unfortunately, my time in our Tribune Tower office was recently cut short due to a study abroad program upon which I've embarked. However, thanks to the dynamic nature of freedoms across the globe and our museum's unique focus, I will continue to be able to make some contributions in the form of this blog. Over the next few weeks, Shawn Healy and I will undertake a brief comparative study of freedom in the United States and the United Kingdom. I will draw on a number of journal articles, textbooks, and news articles to perform analysis of certain freedoms abroad, and Shawn will take part in this dialogue by providing an American perspective. These topics are concurrent with the coursework I will be performing here at the University of Oxford (Christ Church), and in fact will comprise a portion of my graded work.

While the Freedom Museum focuses mainly on American freedoms (particularly the First Amendment), some knowledge of the state of liberty abroad can help to inform our understanding of the freedom that we in the United States enjoy. Great Britain, another longtime bastion of democracy in the West, stands as one of America's closest allies on many issues in the international arena. Many forget, however, that Britain began the process of ending monarchal rule long before the American Revolution established the modern world's most influential democracy. As Gordon Brown, the UK's new Prime Minister, pointed out in a 2004 speech (while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer), the British were the first people in the world to "reject the arbitrary rule of monarchy," wresting power from King John with the Magna Carta in 1215 (a document I had the pleasure of viewing at the British Library only a few short days ago).

Britain's long history of democratic rule has been shaped by events, structural peculiarities, and specific actors unique to its system, a number of which will be explored in blog entries to come. This storied Western democracy, while outwardly quite similar to the one that persists in the United States, can yet speak volumes about the varied nature of freedom as it is experienced in America and around the world. Many of the questions currently plaguing the American and British democracies are the same; it is the institutional mechanisms, the people concerned, and the way these questions are answered that merit intensive study.

The goal of this experiment in blogging is to elicit a deeper understanding of the possibilities for (and obstacles to) various freedoms in different democratic societies. Through this comparative analysis, we hope to shed light on the state of liberty at home as well as abroad.

Tie Goes to the Speaker

By Shawn Healy
In yet another 5-4 decision breaking along ideological lines, the new conservative majority on the Roberts Court carried the day and ruled in favor of Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., and against the Federal Election Commission and former bill sponsor of bi-partisan campaign finance reform legislation Senator John McCain.

The Court has been busy in recent years considering the overall constitutionality of this legislation in 2003, upholding it on 1st Amendment grounds as Senator Mitch McConnell issued a facial challenge. The key issue here is whether or not restricting so-called issue ads run by corporations or labor unions that mention individual candidates during primary and general election campaigns violate political speech rights. On its face, the Court said no, but it left the door ajar last year in allowing as applied challenges. This means the law itself may not be unconstitutional, but it could cross the line when applied in certain instances.

Five Justices determined that an ad run by Wisconsin Right to Life, a nonprofit corporation, was unduly punished by the FEC for a commercial that urged the Senate to provide President Bush's judicial nominees with an up or down vote. It urged Wisconsin citizens to contact their two Senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, and tell them to stop dragging their feet. Feingold, a co-sponsor of the aforementioned campaign finance reform legislation, was in the midst of running for reelection, and the ad appeared within 30 days of a primary. McCain-Feingold restricted such ads within 30 days of the primary and 6o days of the general election.

Justice Roberts spoke for the majority, "drawing (a) line," for the "First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it." In this case, the former won out, for "where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

The outcome is again complicated by concurring opinions. Justice Alito seeks to bridge Roberts' opinion with that of Scalia, as the latter, joined by Thomas and Kennedy, fear that attempting to draw the line in terms of whether or not an issue ad run during a campaign is constitutional is nothing more than an exercise in futility. This triumvirate would strike down this section of the law on facial grounds, but Alito argues this is unnecessary.

The liberal bloc, led in this case by Justice Souter (joined by Stevens, Breyer, and Ginsberg), argues that the majority effectively overturned the Court's 2003 decision. This is a grave error according to Souter, because of the proliferation of money drowning modern campaigns, the recipient cynicism shared by the electorate, and a body of law over the course of the past century seeking to uphold the integrity of the political process through regulating campaign fundraising and expenditures.

The impact of this decision is likely to spur additional as applied challenges and also to encourage other issue groups to test the proverbial waters with the most expensive campaign in political history lurking in 2008. The ad run by Wisconsin Right to Life was probably not meant to directly affect Senator Feingold's prospects for reelection, but there will be others that border on advocacy for or against a candidate, and the lower courts will be left to parse the meaning of last week's decision.

This brings my analysis of the 2006-2007 Supreme Court to a conclusion, but I encourage you to join us for our annual Supreme Court Review at the Freedom Museum on July 12, 2007, from 6-7:30pm. Join Professor Geoffrey Stone, Richard Epstein, and Donald Downs to discuss the five First Amendment cases covered here in more detail. Admission is free. Call 312.222.7871 to RSVP.


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