Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Silent No More

By Shawn Healy
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Kettleman declared the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act passed by the Illinois legislature in 2007 unconstitutional. He deemed it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a backdoor attempt to lend legal credibility to prayer in public school classrooms.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office defended the bill, may appeal to a higher authority, namely the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Based on my own legal analysis and that of First Amendment Center senior scholar Charles Haynes, there stands a fair chance of Gettleman's decision being overturned, as similar laws have withstood judicial scrutiny.

An interesting footnote in the case is the fact that Governor Rod Blagojevich vetoed the legislation, claiming it was unconstitutional. Both the Illinois House and Senate proceeded to take matters into their own hands, and overrode the since criminally-charged governor.

As I reported last spring, the House actually passed legislation to return school prayer to its previous state in Illinois public school classrooms, making the decision voluntary by school district rather than a statewide mandate. It failed to emerge out of committee in the Senate.

We present this issue at the Freedom Museum within an exhibit called "Close to Home." In allowing visitors to weigh in on the controversy, we have elicited strong, salient opinions on both sides of the issue. This case, and our experience in framing it within our museum, cement the fact that the very meaning of the First Amendment remains a contested concept worthy of public discourse, and I fully expect that those who wish to enable prayer and reflection in statewide public schools have only been momentarily silenced.

We await the next chapter in this close to home controversy.


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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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