Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


State of the First Amendment 2007

By Shawn Healy
The First Amendment Center released their annual survey of Americans' attitudes toward the five freedoms today to commemorate the sixth anniverary of the 9/11 attacks and Constitution Day (this coming Monday). The findings should trouble any fan of freedom, and reinforce the utility of facilities like the Freedom Museum and our peer organizations, the First Amendment Center most prominently. In the words of FAC executive director Gene Policinski, "Americans clearly have mixed views of what the First Amendment freedoms are and to whom they should apply." The results "...endorse the idea of more and better education for young people--our nation's future leaders--about our basic freedoms."

Religious tolerance is notably wanting, as 65% believe the Founders intended to establish a Christian nation, and 55% suggest the Constitution cements this notion. Only 56% believe that the free exercise of religion extends to all religious groups, no matter how extreme, a decline of 16% from 2000.

Support for student expression also rates miserably, as 74% would prevent students from wearing t-shirts to public school that might offend others. Press freedom fares similarly, as 60% feel that the media fails to report the news without bias and 62% think that fabricating stories is a widespread problem. On a positive note, only 34% feel that the press has too much freedom, the lowest percentage since the survey began in 1997.

In an era when several states and the federal government have passed laws restricting funeral protests in reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church, 58% of those surveyed support the spirit of such legislation, tolerating bans even on public streets and sidewalks.

In sum, the picture is disturbing, as a full-quarter of respondents believe the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. The bitter irony is that most Americans can't name more than one of the five freedoms embedded in the First Amendment. While 64% are able to identify freedom of speech, only 19% recall religion, 16% press and assembly, and a scant 3% petition. This parallels the results of our 2006 Simpsons survey where Americans were more likely to name the members of the Simpsons family (five in total) than they were the five freedoms.

My fellow friends of the First Amendment, our work is cut out for us. Please join me on the forward front of helping all Americans better understand, value, and protect the freedoms enabled by the First Amendment.


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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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