Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


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.


Post a Comment

<< Home


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.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

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

Powered by Blogger