Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Courting Our Annual Culture War

By Shawn Healy
With Halloween this Wednesday, and Thanksgiving and Christmas on deck (decorations will probably start appearing next week), the culture wars are apparently heating up for another round of holiday cheer, or should I say jeers?

As predicted, the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was greeted with its first lawsuit on Friday by Buffalo Grove (IL) High School freshman Dawn Sherman. With her father and attorney, she seeks an immediate injunction against the law and an ultimate decision concerning its constitutionality. Although the prospects of winning seem slim, the Chicago Tribune and others have questioned the law's wisdom (this from a right-of-center editorial board!).

Stevenson High School junior Aliya de Grazia led a walk-out of her first period class a week ago Friday, and was greeted with a Saturday detention of three hours, ironically a MUCH longer moment of silence!

De Grazia protested legislative overreach, allowing that "it's good for students to take a moment and think about their day, but that should be done on their own time."

She too sees the slippery slope: "This doesn't seem like a big deal now, but these kinds of things can escalate."

At Wheaton College, sophomore Erika Corder sued her Colorado high school after she proselytized in a commencement address and was subsequently punished. Reminiscent of Brittany McComb, Corder was sneaky in her delivery, submitting a prepared speech to her principal for approval, and memorizing her non-written religious segment. She was at first denied her diploma until she apologized for her actions. She refused, but did acknowledge that her bait-and-switch technique was flawed.

To Corder's credit, she seeks clarity for high school graduation speeches when God is referenced. The financial stake here is only attorney's fees. I could save all parties some money and suggest that proselytizing is forbidden, mere references to religion and its importance in one's life is permissible, and Corder has no claim because she defied school policy from the start. Case closed!

Last, but not least, the Supreme Court accepted a case concerning a Muslim prisoner's claim that officials illegally confiscated two copies of his Quran and a prayer rug. The case does not directly invoke the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, but it does touch it tangentially. The minutia of the challenge centers on the question of whether prison officials are law enforcement officers and thus protected by the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, which bars liability lawsuits for confiscated property.

The courts, once again, will weigh in on each of these issues, hopefully providing further clarity as to whether there are cracks in the wall of the First Amendment, and if the "play in the joint" between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses permits flexibility as we ramp up for our annual seasonal standoff.


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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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