Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Liberty Lost Up in Smoke

By Dave A
On January 1, 2008, Illinois' new law preventing smoking in public places will take effect. In the law's cross hairs is smoking in bars and restaurants. On it's surface, it's laudable and is certainly supported by many people. However, for those concerned about preserving liberty, January 1 won't seem quite the same success.

Legislators concerned about people's health, namely employees and customers at restaurants and bars, made a choice to protect people from themselves. No employees were forced to work where they do and no customers were forced to visit such smoke filled venues. In making their decision, they reinforce the idea that government must protect us from every risk, no matter how slight or how informed consenting adults may be. Keep in mind that smoking is legal, we're not talking about a law that punishes an illegal activity.

Most people I speak to about the law, and I have spoken to dozens to understand where they stand on the law and what their rationale is, are in support of it but primarily so they don't have to be active consumers and seek out voluntary smokeless restaurants and bars. Some retort that there aren't many such places for them to visit. I respond that there must not be much demand for it then. After all, we live in the world's most advanced free market that is hypersensitive to the most obscure consumer trends in search of a competitive advantage in the hunt for profit. At any rate, laziness shouldn't be the basis for taking choice away from consumers.

Next, and almost never on the radar screen of those with whom I speak, are the property rights of the business owners who aren't allowed to let people engage in legal activity. They have invested substantial sums in their businesses and vast amounts of human capital. Now, they stand to suffer by the restriction. Smokers are drinkers. Less smoking, less drinking, less profits. More importantly is the fundamental lack of respect for property owners. Government officials have stripped value from property owners and, worst of all, they've done it without any appreciation or even awareness. For those who believe in the free market system, you have to pause and consider how easily property rights can be taken.

Next, let's look at the health risks purported to be caused by second hand smoke. According to the three major studies, second hand smoke increases the risk for cancer, asthma and a variety of other ailments. However the studies don't test second hand smoke on rats or humans and prove a direct link. Rather, researchers send out thousands of questionnaires and compare the health issues of those people with information about the population at-large. They then account for variables and assign risk to behavior such as being in the presence of second hand smoke. That is to say, they can't prove the connection by direct medical evidence but they consider variables and when they can't otherwise explain a health issue, they assign it to second hand smoke. Apparently this is scientifically accepted and I'm not qualified to refute that. However, when reading the summaries of two of the reports, I can tell you that I was surprised this was the basis for the purported health effects of second hand smoke. I am qualified to report that most people to whom I explain this, also share my surprise about the science behind second hand smoke. At the very least, I think it's valuable that we all, policy makers included, at least understand the underlying basis for decisions which restrict liberty.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this whole situation is revealed in an unrelated law that passed in 2006 in Illinois. In an effort unabashedly about saving the state money, the Illinois EPA stopped testing vehicles earlier than the model year 1996 because these vehicles don't have on board computers which can be accessed easily, quickly and therefore cheaply, to determine if cars meet emissions standards. Cars older than 1996 were tested, you may recall, by placing a measuring device over the tailpipe of a running vehicle. This system measured the actual emissions and analyzed them for pollutants. This sounds perfectly reasonable until you consider that older vehicles, by far, emit more pollutants than newer cars. Not only because of better technology on newer cars but because the technology is more likely to be functional still. Further, studies from the Sierra Club and others have shown (presumably using the same questionnaires and aggregate statistical comparisons) that vehicle emission are linked to asthma, leukemia and lung cancer, among other ailments. So, on the one hand, the state seeks to protect us from these harms by banning smoking, thereby limiting freedom of choice of and taking property rights while on the other hand they increase many of the same health risks in an effort to save money. Incidentally, if saving money were the state's paramount concern, one could imagine deciding to only test vehicles older than 1996 model year, the most significant polluters.

While we're on the subject of alternative laws, it's important to note that passing legislation isn't easy, it's a balancing act. Collectively, we try to accomplish some good and balance that accomplishment with a variety of factors including cost, limitations on liberty and the likelihood of a law being ignored or enforced. The greater the harm sought to be avoided or good to be accomplished, the more limitations on liberty and cost we're generally prepared to accept. In the present case, I think the legislature didn't place an adequate value on the liberty to chose to assemble in public and engage in a legal activity with consenting adults, nor do they properly value property rights of business owners. Had I felt compelled to accept the science behind the second hand smoke issue, my approach would have allowed smoking by permit, much the same way alcohol can be served only with permits. Allow perhaps 50% of bars to apply for permits, require some reasonable protections for employees, and see how the market responds. This, more balanced approach, would preserve liberty while still offering some relief.

January 1, 2008 is a sad day for liberty which has suffered unreasonably at the hands of frenzy to provide a smokeless environment.


Is This Heaven?

By Shawn Healy
The answer of course, from one of the all-time great sports movies, "Field of Dreams," is "No, it's only Iowa." For a political junkie like myself, however, the answer is a resounding yes, at least every fourth year. As I mentioned in my last post, I'll be traveling to the Hawkeye State on Jan. 2 for the caucuses the following day, and plan to stay through Jan. 4. I hope to attend last-minute candidate rallies, absorb the media blitz, and witness the party meetings in person. I'll update this blog throughout my stay, and hope to also conduct interviews with voters and take video footage of the proceedings. All of this will be available here in some form.

Before heading out of the office for the end of the year, I'll play armchair pundit once more and analyze the state of the race with the caucuses a mere six days away. I'll leave New Hampshire and all roads beyond for the following week, as Iowa is about to become the center of the political universe.

Let's look first at the Democratic field given the fact that each of the contenders has placed a premium on winning the state. Polling data suggests that the race in Iowa remains a dead heat between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Clinton and Obama have topped all recent polls, but don't count out Edwards who finished a strong second here in 2004 and has made the Hawkeye State a second home ever since.

With the race so close, campaigns will place a premium on turnout, usually in the neighborhood of 10-20% of all eligible voters. Edwards has a legion of supporters who already went through the motions for him, but according to the LA Times-Bloomberg poll released this morning, Clinton's supporters are most likely to caucus among the big three. Edwards and Obama arguably have the best organizations in the state, but they are up against the most formidable Democratic vote machine in the last two decades of American politics.

So who wins? My money remains with Clinton, although I can certainly envision an Obama surprise. Edwards wins with bad weather, but the forecast is clear and cool, and a third place finish will doom his candidacy and possibly prompt an early withdrawal. A Clinton win restores her luster as the inevitable candidate, but an Obama surprise suggests all bets are off.

As for the rest of the field, their distance from the frontrunners is suggestive that this is little more than a three horse race, with the remaining five candidates battling to stay in the race. A fourth or fifth place finish is a must, and I expect Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, respectively, to claim these spots.

The Republican field is more complicated here and across the country. Polling data suggests that Mike Huckabee has overcome Mitt Romney as the frontrunner. The former Massachusetts Governor certainly has the superior organization of the two, and a comeback victory would make him tough to beat in New Hampshire and the ensuing contests. Romney also has the financial resources to run negative ads critical of his opponents (indeed he already is as we speak--Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire), and these could combine with Huckabee's acknowledged ramshackle organization to deliver a win to Mitt, not Mike.

The battle for number three here is also significant, but it is not the death knell that looms for the Democratic counterpart. Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani are competing for not the win, nor the place, but the show. Whoever emerges from this trio stands as the foremost alternative to Mitt and Mike as the field drifts to New England. Remember, winning the Iowa caucuses is probably not as important as meeting or exceeding expectations. A third place finish would attain the latter for any member of the triumvirate.

Who carries the elephants' mantle beyond the corn field of Iowa, you might ask? I won't quarrel with a plethora of polls that reveal a narrow, but growing, and even in some cases a double-digit lead for Huckabee, so I predict a narrow victory over Romney for the former Arkansas Governor. The ever-sought third-place showing goes to McCain, who is surging at the right time and may be most trusted to lead the world in this era of international terrorism after yesterday's assassination of Bhutto. Thompson bests Giuliani for 4th place as Rudy has rarely shown his face in the Heartland, making him ripe for a Ron Paul pickoff, further dooming his late-state strategy.

Time for me to sign off until I greet you on Jan. 2 from Cedar Rapids, IA. This pundit finally yields to the voters of Iowa, and wishes all of you a happy and safe new year.


Post-Holiday Policking

By Shawn Healy
While most of the nation was busy making their lists and checking them twice, residents of Iowa and New Hampshire had only a two-day reprieve from a different kind of holiday shopping: presidential retail politics. The candidates returned in droves this morning for the final eight-day sprint before the Iowa Caucuses, with the New Hampshire Primary following five days later. Given the Freedom Museum's current focus on the presidential election process through our special exhibit Vote4Me! and an extensive calendar of public programs addressing the topic, we thought it only fitting that I travel to ground zero of the campaign in the next two weeks.

Beginning next Wednesday I'll drive to Cedar Rapids, IA, to take in the festivities leading up to caucus night on Thursday. My hope is to attend a Democratic caucus, for the party's viability requirement of 15% for any candidate makes for interesting political drama. I'll also cover the Republican outcome extensively, but the GOP conducts simple straw polls at the beginning of their precinct meeting on caucus night, saving the theatrics for their left-of-center counterparts.

I'll return to Chicago next Friday and head to the Freedom Museum on Saturday for Voter Fest, where we make a final push for voter registration in Illinois one month before our own primary. The event will also feature a curator talk from our Director of Exhibits and Programs, Nathan Richie, about Vote4Me!, along with a brief presentation and Q&A session from your's truly on the state of the race. Please check our web site in the coming days for more detailed information.

On Monday Jan. 7 it's off to the Granite State. I'll spend three days in Manchester, NH, observing candidates' get-out-the-vote operations and talking to voters before and after the pivotal New Hampshire Primary.

When I return on Jan. 9 the race will by no means be decided, but to borrow an axiom from sports, there will be points on the board. I've sized up the race on many occasions throughout 2007, but given the wide open race on two sides of the aisle, an occasional update is more than necessary. USA Today provided a wonderful primer on the critical dates and developments coinciding with the arrival of the New Year, so I need not recount these here. What was a marathon is now a sprint, and in this spirit I'll provide but a few observations from afar before I head by planes, trains, and automobiles to the Breadbasket and New England.

  1. Hillary Clinton is no longer the inevitable Democratic nominee. If I was a betting man, I'd still have my money on the former First Lady, but Barack Obama is closing strong, and John Edwards remains organizationally solid in Iowa. Short of an Edwards victory in the caucuses, this once more becomes a two-horse race. An Obama victory undermines the Clinton claim that she is the more electable Democrat. If New Hampshire independents vote in the Democratic primary for Obama, Hillary is in trouble, for every Democratic candidate in the past who swept the two early states went on to the nomination.
  2. Mike Huckabee is the Republican frontrunner according to national polling data. He is a strong bet to win Iowa, and although his message may not resonate in New Hampshire, he is a threat to win the South Carolina primary and may be the man to beat at this point in a multi nodal Republican field.
  3. Mitt Romney remains well-positioned to pull off an Iowa comeback and follow it up with a win in New Hampshire. Should the former Massachusetts Governor slip in Iowa, he'll need to fend off the surging John McCain, who has made New Hampshire a second home since his campaign nearly imploded last summer.
  4. Giuliani's late-state strategy is about to be tested. He campaigned sparsely in Iowa and New Hampshire, targeting larger, delegate-rich states lined up later, many of them on Tsunami Tuesday (Feb. 5). A split decision in the early states opens the door for Rudy, but Huckabee, Romney, or even McCain may be on their way to victory by the time the race arrives in the Sunshine State on Jan. 29.
  5. Don't count out an Iowa surprise in the Democratic field. Joe Biden boasts a loyal base of supporters dating back to his 1988 presidential run and has a slate of endorsements from party faithful across the state. Chris Dodd even moved his family to Des Moines. Kerry and Edwards finished 1 and 2 in Iowa in 2004, both of them closing strong. Might these two senior senators have similar tricks up their sleeves?
  6. The mighty dollar still matters, perhaps this year more than most. Romney and Rudy, and Hillary and Barack are well-positioned for the multi-state race that follows the early contests. Underfunded candidates with a shot like Edwards, Huckabee, and McCain must win early to earn free media and fresh campaign cash to move forward. The aforementioned Funded Four are in it to win it through at least Feb. 5.
  7. What impact will newspaper endorsements have in the early contests? McCain has run the table (Des Moines Register, Manchester Union Leader, Boston Herald, Boston Globe) on the Republican side, and the Concord (NH) Monitor went so far as to instruct Republicans and independents to vote for anyone but Romney. Hillary Clinton won the Des Moines Register's nod, but Barack Obama scored the Boston Globe's. In most places these testimonials have taken on the relevance of the phonograph, but not in small-town America where retail politicking remains a contact sport.
I'll return on Friday with a final analysis of the race in Iowa before greeting you in the Hawkeye State on Jan 4.


Bienvenidos a Colombia!

By Eran Wade
Today I begin as a contributor to Fanning the Flames. What allows me to contribute to a blog related to the Freedom Museum? This January and February I will be accompanying social justice workers who work in a human rights center in Colombia, South America. The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is a museum dedicated to the First Amendment Freedoms. However, it is also a museum dedicated to human rights and First Amendment freedoms around the world. So, when at least 10 people, were killed in a monk-led protest in September in Myanmar, the Freedom Museum takes notice. It also happens that I am a Freedom Ambassador (volunteer) at the museum and I help with adult educational programs, student field trip orientations, and other special events. Danielle Estler—volunteer and intern coordinator at the museum—jokes that this blog will be my penance for abandoning the museum for six weeks. Actually, my experience in Colombia fits right in and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my experience related to international human rights.

What is going on in Colombia? The Latin America Working Group is a coalition dedicated to a U.S. foreign policy in Latin America that promotes human rights, justice, peace and sustainable development. The group says, “Over 300,000 people are forced to flee their homes from political violence each year.” The Colombian Presbyterian Church runs a human rights center to empower those folks to regain their livelihood. The social justice workers at the center give legal representation, help the people claim government assistance, and encourage them amidst the danger and conflict. The armed situation is volatile and complex. The rights that you and I take for granted here in the United States are not always a given in war-torn Colombia. The Latin America Working Group continues on their website, “U.S. and Colombian nongovernmental groups, alarmed by growing allegations of killings of civilians by members of the Colombian army, call for stricter enforcement of the human rights conditions in the law.”

My goal in Colombia is to observe the work, encourage the people, and communicate to friends in the United States about what’s going on. While there, I will be blogging via “Fanning the Flames.” I look forward to this opportunity and hope old and new friends alike with be able to keep informed through my stories and experiences.


Freedom of Expression Throughout the World

By Catherine Feerick

Today marks the end of my semester as intern for the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum. The last four months have provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the First Amendment in depth, along with the controversies that surround its application to the daily lives of United States citizens. Through monitoring major daily newspapers I have seen first-hand how the First Amendment protects the right of a woman to curse loudly at her overflowing toilet and the right of students to form religious groups outside the classroom. I have witnessed debates over the boundaries of expression, like displaying an image of Malcolm X in a school mural or young men wearing saggy pants. It never ceases to amaze me how restrictions on expression or assembly affect communities from the level of the school or parish to the entire nation. The First Amendment is not absolute. It is rather a dynamic piece of law that changes with the needs and situations of Americans, but the spirit of freedom that surrounds the rights to speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition remains manifest throughout the nation.

The contemporary political climate within the United States is far from my area of study, Islamic world history, but similar themes cross cultures, religions, and languages as people fight for the essential right to expression. One example that I have studied in some depth is the case of Raï (ﺮﺃﻱ) musicians in Algeria and in France. The genre of Raï, which means “opinion” or “point of view” in Arabic, arose in the port city of Oran (ﻮﮬﺮﺍﻦ) among women who were too impoverished to remain on failing rural farms. At the time it was socially proper for women to sing only in the company of other women, and typically songs had to have some religious significance. Early Cheikhas, the founding mothers of Raï, broke both these cultural ties. They performed for men in cellars, bars, and brothels. They further broke ties with polite society by singing of what they knew: poverty, love, sex, and alcohol.

As time wore on, men entered into the movement. Raï became a voice of resistance to the causes of the day, from independence from France to criticism of the Islamist party (Le Front Islamique du Salut) and oppressive governmental control. Beginning in the 1980s, Raï musicians were routinely subjected to censure from the government and the surrounding society. Several important artists, including the singer Cheb Hasni and the producer Rachid Baba-Ahmed, were even murdered. Many of those who could afford to leave the country fled to France to escape persecution, among them the now international stars Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami. The title “Cheb” (“ ﺸﺎﺐ” in standard Arabic), meaning “young” in the Maghrebi dialect, was commonly adopted by male Raï artists.

Raï musicians continued to reach the Algerian population even after their move to France. Cassettes were regularly smuggled back into the nation, and some reports claim that youth would secretly replace the recording of the morning call to prayer with the latest song from Khaled or Fadela.

In the face of persecution by religious zealots, an oppressive government, and crushing poverty, singers of Raï asserted their opinions and spoke the reality of their lives. Many of them were willing to die or pass into exile rather than be silenced.

An excellent example of a true Raï song is the popular “Abdel Kader” (ﻋﺒﺪ ﺍﻠﻗﺍﺪﺭ), which many hold as a benchmark to greatness for any Middle Eastern singer. The basic melody remains unchanged, although singers’ voices often depart from the melody and improvise new lyrics. The video I have chosen to represent the genre features three prominent Algerian singers, Rachid Taha, Khaled, and Faudel, on a world tour made in the late 1990s. The lyrics of the song are included, but they are not my own translation. The North African dialect combines many languages, including Berber, French, and Spanish and is very difficult to understand even among Peninsular Arabs. Because this was a very popular song in its time, the lyrics can be accessed easily and, hopefully, accurately online. I hope you enjoy hearing a piece of music from artists who spoke out boldly in spite of the danger they faced in a society less free than our own.

Abdel Kader

Abdel Kader, my master, my guide
Ease my pain, make me strong
Help me through the dark night of my soul
O sweet girl of my homeland
Why is my heart so troubled
While yours is at peace?
In spite of love's many pleasures
She's turned away and left me
After a night of bliss
Abdel Kader, keeper of the keys
Keeper of my soul
I have left heaven and come back to earth
Away from her arms
I pray life is long enough to let me start over
Heal me and turn me away from my pain


Shaking Off the Rust

By Shawn Healy
I was emailed last week by Steve Daniels, one of the organizers of a grass roots organization called Change Decatur. He told me about the efforts of his group to collect signatures to gain ballot access for a referendum on the form of government in this depressed Central Illinois city. Daniels thought that their story might be excellent fodder for this blog and the "Share Your Stories" segment of the Freedom Museum web site, and needless to say I was intrigued.

Last Thursday, Daniels sat in on a conference call with me, Brian Burcham, and Keith Anderson to discuss their undertakings. Collectively, they spoke of a medium size city (77,000 residents) in peril, bleeding residents and jobs since the early 1980's. Despite its size and location, Decatur is an urban community with all of its typical implications. Heavily reliant on manufacturing jobs, the city was devastated by a Firestone plant closing and its continued dependence on Caterpillar, Arthur Daniels Midland, and its namesake, A.E. Staley.

The city has a sizable minority population arguably ignored by its current city council and manager, and its schools are in shambles. Poverty is widespread, with 70% of Decatur students qualifying for the federal lunch program.

Unlike many other locales in the Rust Belt, Decatur has responded poorly to the forces of globalization, and the organizers of Change Decatur attribute this to lack of government accountability. The six-member city council is elected on an at-large basis, and its city manager is selected by the council. In order to pass resolutions and ordinances, or to essentially govern the city, the votes of only four council members are required.

Because of its small size and distance from voters compared to an aldermanic system based on wards, the council is allegedly "special interest" centered, focusing narrowly in the purchase of a hotel and constructing a brick street, for example, rather than the more general, pressing issues confronting local residents. The future water supply for the city, for instance, remains unaddressed.

Change Decatur proposes a strong mayor system, with the executive elected at large by voters, and an expanded city council with 20 members elected by ward. The organizers hope to place the proposal before voters when the state heads to the polls for a presidential primary on February 5th. This isn't the first time they tried to find the ballot, however, as their January 2007 effort was nixed when their signatures were challenged. They went to court once more last week as a single objector, a local realtor and former city council member, challenged their authenticity. The verdict is pending.

The group is composed of men and women of disparate interests and backgrounds, but they all agree on the common cause of changing the political course of their city. The working group of 10 to 15 has been buoyed by a number of local endorsements, including the Democratic Party, labor organizations, and teachers. They are wanting for the support of local businesses, and last year were lampooned by the local paper. They are hoping for an editorial endorsement this time around as the election nears, but none of them are holding their breath.

In terms of financial resources, this is, in the words of Burcham, a classic case of David versus Goliath. He has provided over 80% of the seed money thus far, a good portion of it ($20K) devoted to fighting for ballot access via the appeal process. Recently, individuals and unions have made small contributions to their efforts.

You might recall the last time Decatur made national news. It was the Fall of 1999 when Reverend Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow-PUSH Coalition trudged through the cornfields to Decatur to contest the expulsion of 17 African American students for a 17-second fight at a football game for 2 years. Anderson is the President of the Central Illinois Chapter of Rainbow-PUSH, and he recalled how frustrated he was with his initial battle to overturn the arguably excessive punishments. 90 days after he initiated the fight, once Jackson entered the fray, the suspensions were reduced to more reasonable sentences.

Why, you might ask, is this blast from the past recounted here? Anderson points once more to the lack of leadership inherent to a weak mayor system like that established in Decatur. It leaves racial fissures unaddressed, and trickles down to local schools where a strong partnership between city government and the school board is wanting. The board, by the way, is also elected on an at-large basis.

As a student of political science, I can honestly tell you that the verdict is still out on the ideal form of urban governance. "Professional management" forms like that in place in Decatur were a product of the Progressive Era when disgust over urban political machines was at high noon. City managers and councils elected on an at large basis were seen as non-partisan means of negating the patronage and graft endemic to strong mayor-aldermanic systems.

In the last several decades, many cities have reverted to the traditional template for many of the same reasons that Decatur is considering, namely lack of representation and accountability. While I won't hold one form up as superior here, I do commend this upstanding group of citizens for committing their time and treasure to the improvement of the place they call home. Daniels, Burcham, Anderson, and all of the members of Change Decatur embody the principles of effective citizenship, and here's hoping they get a fair shake on election day as local residents choose to either renew their commitment to their current form of government, or to sign a new social contract in favor of a strong mayor system.


Protecting Our Rights, Our Freedom

By Shawn Healy
The following letter-to-the-editor ran in yesterday's "Voice of the People" section of the Chicago Tribune:

Illinois public school students begin the day with a moment of silence, which may include prayer.

Morton West High School students congregate in the cafeteria and outside the principal's office, locking arms and singing songs protesting the Iraq War.

Washington, D.C.'s ban on gun ownership and possession is struck down by a federal appeals court, threatening a similar ordinance in Chicago.

San Diego County searches the homes of potential welfare recipients, denying assistance to those who refuse to open their doors.

The U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of capital punishment by lethal injection, placing a virtual moratorium on the practice in the meantime.

What does this array of current issues in the news have in common? At the crux of each is The Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution, which were adopted 216 years ago today.

The freedoms they protect remain contested to this very day and vigorous debate of the boundaries of these core rights – in the courts and on the pages of newspapers like this – are part of what has allowed our democracy to evolve and flourish over two centuries.

So when the Illinois State Legislature mandates a moment of silence at the start of each school day and suggests prayer as an option, freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment rises to the fore. Is this state sponsorship of religion or its free exercise by young citizens?

When Morton West students were suspended for their protest at school, the limits of student speech under the First Amendment are contested. Does free speech stop at the schoolhouse gate?

When the U.S. Supreme Court decides this spring if gun ownership and possession is an individual or a collective right, the Second Amendment is further defined. Do local gun bans violate the right to keep and bear arms?

When welfare recipients have their homes searched without probable cause, the Fourth Amendment is invoked. Is this an unreasonable search and seizure?

When capital punishment is imposed upon death row inmates, the Eighth Amendment surfaces. Is lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment?

On this Saturday's anniversary of the Bill of Rights ratification on December 15, 1791, consider how these freedoms benefit you every day. We must not only pay homage to this sacred script, but fight for its continued resonance. Each of us can play a role in exercising and protecting our rights so that future generations benefit from the protections bestowed upon us by our forefathers.


We the People

By Shawn Healy
I had the distinct pleasure of serving as a judge for the Illinois state finals of the annual "We the People" competition last Friday. Directed by the Center for Civic Education through funding from the federal Department of Education, Pat Feichter runs a wonderful organization that combats the civic illiteracy that has infected not only our youth, but our society as a whole. Seven schools with teams ranging in size from 9 to 29 students boned up on the nation's founding debates and documents, preparing brief four minute presentations for judges, and later responding to a series of questions during a six-minute follow-up period.

Among the themes considered were the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system; the means by which the Founders crafted the Constitution; the way in which constitutional values shapes American institutions and practices; the development and expansion of the Bill of Rights; the protections the Bill of Rights guarantees; and finally, the role of American citizens in our democracy.

The schools selected subunits of three to five students to specialize in one of these six areas of concentration from which one of three major questions was selected by the judges to guide their initial presentations. For example, my cohort selected the following question in the area of how the framers created the Constitution:

One of the keenest insights of our Founders was that the process by which we arrive at decisions matters a great deal. Legislating is not like war, in which one side strives to impose its will on the other... Good politicians look for solutions that allow both sides to claim, if not victory, at least some gains. Do you agree or disagree with this observation? Why?

It was particularly refreshing for me to see young people grappling with such consequential questions. Their knowledge of the founding debates was more than impressive, further cementing the effectiveness of civic-related instruction wanting in most classrooms across America. I have always contended that these debates are not worthy of the dust that has gathered upon them. Students, and people in general for that matter, are inherently interested in controversy. The Constitutional Convention and the document it produced embody a range of contentious issues, many of them still impacting us today more than 220 years since the ink dried.

Pat Feichter asked me to say a few words about the Freedom Museum to the group over lunch upon the conclusion of the Constitution. The students were amazed to learn that our Simpson's survey identified only one adult in 1,000 who could identify all five of the freedoms embedded in the First Amendment. I challenged this group of about 200 students and teachers to do the same, and many volunteered their responses eagerly, and accurately I might add.

I spoke of how these founding debates and documents remain critical to us circa 2007. One need look no further than the developments in the Illinois Legislature with the mandate of a moment of silence that may include prayer at the start of the school day, or the crackdown at Morton West on students who participated in an on-campus war protest to see why knowledge of the five freedoms and all of our rights guaranteed by the founding documents matters.

If we don't understand the implications of these rights we won't translate their relevance in today's world, and to fight for their continued sustenance as our democratic republic survives its third century. Kudos to a group of young people that understands the importance of our civic creed, to the hard work of Pat Feichter and the Center for Civic Education in making this formative experience possible, and to the teachers who devoted long hours to preparing their students for this charge. I was honored to be a small part of our ongoing experiment in a social contract between a democratic government and its people.

Congratulations to Maine South High School and teachers Mr. Trenkle and Mr. Hansen for advancing to the national competition in Washington as representatives of the Prairie State.


Poll Position

By Shawn Healy
If you are among the sliver of America already tuned into the 2008 election, you are without doubt deluded on a daily basis with public opinion polls, both of the national and state variety. It's sometimes difficult to get a handle on what all of this information means, and a number of caveats abound as we interpret their findings. What follows is a few tips from a self-confessed political junkie and numbers geek.

Polls are a mere snapshot in time. They take a picture of public opinion over a few days, but fail to account for the fact that public sentiments are continuously shifting, at least as they relate to candidates for public office (it is remarkably stable relative to issue positions). Rather than placing too much weight in a given poll, look for trends. Who's moving up, and who's falling through the floor. For instance, Mike Huckabee is gaining at the right time with the Iowa caucuses a mere four weeks away, while Fred Thompson's decline may represent an early death knell.

For this reason, pay attention to longitudinal data to circumvent the cross-sectional nature of polls. I visit on a regular basis because they show candidate poll performance across time, and also aggregate a series of polls at once. They use data points from each to arrive at the average position for each candidate.

This brings me to my next point: Don't place all of your eggs in one basket. A single poll is not necessarily an accurate depiction of the race. All polls account for errors, as they survey only a small sample of the electorate and make projections off of this data. In general, larger samples, so long as they are randomly constructed, equal lower margins of error.

Margins of error are statistical terms to reflect the possibility that the numbers reported in the sample vary from the general population. When a survey suggests a statistical dead heat, this typically means that the candidates are within the margin of error of one another. For instance, Barack Obama leads in Iowa according to the most recent Des Moines Register poll, but Hillary Clinton may be ahead of him when accounting for margin of error, and third place candidate, John Edwards, may even be ahead of Hillary. The projections offered in the poll, however, are the best-guess estimates of the current state of the race.

Early opinion polls, especially of a national nature, are indicative of name recognition and little more. This is why Hillary and Rudy Giuliani led the pack early on and maintain national leads. In the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where voters see the candidates up close and personal on a daily basis, the numbers vary significantly. True, Hillary leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but Barack is closing in, and the Illinois Senator leads in Iowa (at least according to some polls). On the Republican side, Huckabee leads in Iowa (suggested by three recent polls), and Romney in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The momentum gleaned from these early contests will likely translate into success elsewhere as a result of free media, momentum, and money flowing into campaign coffers, so for better or worse, discount national polls for their early state counterparts.

A crucial variable is who is being surveyed. John Edwards, for instance, finished second in the 2004 Iowa Caucuses and has a legion of supporters who have already showed up on caucus night for him, while Barack Obama is tremendously popular among young people in the state, many of whom tend not to vote when push comes to shove (colleges will also be on winter break on January 3rd). All the poll administrators can do is ask voters if they intend to caucus. Delivering them to the polls is the responsibility of campaigns. Turnout will decide who wins on election night, not intentions, meaning Edwards' support may indeed be more realistic.

On the other hand, Obama's support among young people may be underestimated in polls given their tendency to shun land lines for cellular phones. I for one have not had a landline for a decade, and 16% of households share this habit. Polling administrators tend to focus on home phones, and to date, I have received only one phone call conducting a poll for a local aldermanic race. In short, my opinions are typically not accounted for in opinion polls, and along with my counterparts, this may represent bias and add to the errors inherent in opinion polls.

What then, should we make of this barrage of data? Think of polls as a public thermometer taking the temperature of voters at a moment in time. As a native of Wisconsin, I was taught that if I didn't like the weather, I should wait five minutes for it to change. Although public sentiments aren't as fickle as a Midwestern spring, they are fluid enough for us to caution calling an election before it has even begun.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention our current special exhibit at the Freedom Museum, Vote4Me!: Inside a Presidential Election. One portion of the exhibit addresses the issue of polling data and presents many of the caveats I echoed above. It asks the visitor to play the role of presidential candidate and craft issue positions relative to three hot button issues: Iraq, taxes, and gay marriage. Then, these positions are placed alongside those of our previous visitors and the candidate is asked to emphasize those issues that resonate with the public, and downplay those without widespread backing. I encourage you to come and take your own temperature!


A Religious Test?

By Shawn Healy
Some political pundits suggest that Mitt Romney's religiously-themed address scheduled for tomorrow at the Bush Library in College Station, TX, is a response to the anti-Mormon bigotry he has encountered on the campaign trail. He has been replaced by Mike Huckabee as the apparent frontrunner in Iowa, and clings to a tenuous lead in South Carolina. Both states are hotbeds of evangelical Christians who hold deep reservations about the Morman faith. In fact, polls show that Americans are much more apt to vote for an African-American or female candidate over a Morman (28% suggest they would not vote for the latter).

The speech is positioned as “an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” It is drawing inevitable comparisons to JFK's similar address 47 years ago 90 miles down the road in Houston when the Democratic nominee championed the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Kennedy, of course, was the first and only Catholic president in American history, and despite its standing as the most popular denomination, only one other Catholic has received a major party presidential nomination (Al Smith from the Democrats in 1928).

Romney is not even the presumptive nominee, and his challenge is greater given the fact that he has positioned himself as the conservative alternative to Giuliani. He is competing for the same voters as Huckabee, social conservatives who call for the restoration of faith in the public square. Romney claims the speech, titled "Faith in America, is not about Mormonism, but the importance of religion on a broader level. Unfortunately, he's preaching to the proverbial choir here.

Instead, Romney should reference the U.S. Constitution. Article VI, Section Three mandates " religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." It is unfair for voters to blatantly disregard this constitutional protection, and Romney should make this known.

Short of shaming religious bigots, Mitt could do us all a great favor by illuminating his faith. For most of us, the Church of Latter Day Saints is shrouded in mystery. Romney held the equivalent position as a Catholic bishop and is by every measure a man of his faith. Given his political prominence and silky smooth demeanor, Mitt is made for this mission (pardon the metaphor). In so doing, he follows in the footsteps of another Massachusetts politician who celebrated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and pledged not to violate the Establishment Clause.

The brilliance of the Constitution and the First Amendment as they relate to religion is the tolerance both provide for men and women of all denominations. They enabled Muslim Representative Ellison to take his oath of office on Jefferson's Koran, Jewish Justice Brandeis to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Catholic Kennedy to bring Camelot to the White House. For Romney's Mormon faith, they allowed a uniquely American religion to flourish despite violent challenges along the way.

America awaits its 2007 refresher on the importance of religious liberty. Is Mitt fit for the billing?


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