Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


First Amendment A Lonely Star in Texas

By Shawn Healy
Yesterday, the First Amendment lost an opportunity for a preferred place in Texas state education standards. A proposal by Mavis Knight, a Democratic member of the State Board of Education, would have required that students study the reasons the Founders "protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over others."

It speaks specifically to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and admittedly carries ideological baggage. While liberals hide behind a "wall" of separation between church and state, conservatives suggest that government endorsement of religion passes constitutional muster so long as it is not directed toward any one denomination. In short, one would sanitize the public square and the other would decorate it with religious ornaments. As usual, reality probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Public schools have long served as prime battlegrounds in our nation's culture wars. They serve an incredibly heterogeneous student population and are too often tasked with resolving an infinite number of societal failings. It should come as no surprise then that the Texas Board of Education is grappling with policies that encapsulate our remarkably polarized political system. The stakes are high given that the Lone Star State is surpassed only by California in terms of population, textbook publishers cater their offerings to these state standards, leaving schools in smaller states with their imprints.

While Knight's First Amendment foray failed, her conservative counterparts successfully pushed through standards addressing the impact of taxes and regulations on private enterprise and the importance of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Religion also received a nod in that US History students are required to explain the "laws of nature and laws of God."

The ideological bent of each of these requirements, Knight's included, raises eyebrows over objectivity concerns, but a qualified educator can brush these aside. The larger point is that there is value in formal instruction of civics, government, US History, and law as demonstrated in the Illinois Civic Blueprint. Moreover, discussion of current and controversial issues of public concern takes center stage in every engaging social studies classroom.

Knight's First Amendment-centered proposal is also supported by researchers Kenneth Dautrich, David Yalof, and Mark Hugo Lopez in their 2008 book titled The Future of the First Amendment. According to their ongoing study, "...Those high school students who take classes with First Amendment or media and society are more likely to support the exercise of free expression rights." They find that student support for First Amendment rights is surprisingly lower than that of their teachers and administrators, but that their sentiments for the five freedoms grow stronger in application, such as music censorship, prior review of student newspapers, and perhaps a debate over religion's place in the curriculum.

The Texas State Board of Education would therefore be wise to put politics aside and stand behind teaching the First Amendment. It knows no ideology or party and has served us all quite well since its adoption in 1791. Its freedoms are foundational and should therefore form the bedrock of a solid social studies education.
Slide 5

Labels: , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice fill someone in on and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to greet you, ladies and gentlemen!

For sure you didn’t here about me yet,
my parents call me James F. Collins.
Generally I’m a venturesome analyst. for a long time I’m keen on online-casino and poker.
Not long time ago I started my own blog, where I describe my virtual adventures.
Probably, it will be interesting for you to utilize special software facilitating winnings .
Please visit my diary. I’ll be interested on your opinion..

2:04 AM  

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