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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What If Christine O'Donnell Were Right About The First Amendment?

The mainstream media and blogosphere have erupted because in a radio debate Christine O'Donnell appeared to dispute whether "separation of church and state" was required by the First Amendment.  (O'Donnell's campaign walked back the position after the debate, saying O'Donnell merely meant that the words were not in the First Amendment.)

The concept of separation of church and state is not, indeed, in the wording of the First Amendment.  Rather, as explained in the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lynch v. Donelly:
This Court has explained that the purpose of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment is
to prevent, as far as possible, the intrusion of either [the church or the state] into the precincts of the other.
Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 614 (1971).
At the same time, however, the Court has recognized that
total separation is not possible in an absolute sense. Some relationship between government and religious organizations is inevitable.
Ibid. In every Establishment Clause case, we must reconcile the inescapable tension between the objective of preventing unnecessary intrusion of either the church or the state upon the other, and the reality that, as the Court has so often noted, total separation of the two is not possible. [p673]

The Court has sometimes described the Religion Clauses as erecting a "wall" between church and state, see, e.g., Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 18 (1947). The concept of a "wall" of separation is a useful figure of speech probably deriving from views of Thomas Jefferson. [n1] The metaphor has served as a reminder that the Establishment Clause forbids an established church or anything approaching it. But the metaphor itself is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of the relationship that in fact exists between church and state.
The reference to Jefferson relates to this passage from a letter Jefferson wrote in 1802, as recited in the 1878 case Reynolds v. United States (emphasis mine):
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions -- I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
So, O'Donnell unquestionably did not agree with the popular liberal conception that the First Amendment by its written terms requires a "separation of church and state," but she was not wrong.

And what an embarrassment to Widener Law School that as soon as O'Donnell questioned whether "separation of church and state" was in the First Amendment, the crowd erupted with gasps of disbelief and mocking laughter. 

And if O'Donnell's imperfect -- or perhaps nuanced? -- understanding of the First Amendment were so outrageous, how about the inability of Chris Coons, a Yale Law School graduate, to identify the other freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and his misquoting the text of the First Amendment in his challenge to O'Donnell:
"Government shall make no establishment of religion," Coons responded, reciting from memory the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Coons was off slightly: The first amendment actually reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.")
Ann Althouse has more on how Coons simply was wrong in his quotation of the First Amendment  which led to O'Donnell's supposed major gaffe about the Establishment Clause, and how the press has taken O'Donnell's comments out of context:
O'Donnell reacts: "That's in the First Amendment?" And, in fact, it's not. The First Amendment doesn't say "government." It says "Congress." And since the discussion is about what local school boards can do, the difference is highly significant.

Also, it isn't "shall make no establishment of religion." It's "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." There's a lot one could say about the difference between those 2 phrases, and I won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say that it was not stupid for O'Donnell to say "That's in the First Amendment?" — because it's not. Coons was presenting a version of what's in the cases interpreting the text, not the text itself.
A literal reading of O'Donnell's comments reflects that she was correct, but of course, the press and the blogosphere don't want a literal reading, they want a living, breathing reading which comports with their preconceived notions.

Update:  See also:
Update 10-21-2010:  In an interview with ABC News, O'Donnell explained her position in terms evidencing a nuance and understanding far beyond those of the Widener Law School crowd:
During Tuesday night's debate with Democratic opponent Chris Coons, O'Donnell challenged Coons to show where the Constitution requires separation of church and state, drawing swift criticism from her opponent, laughter from the audience and yet another media firestorm.

"It's really funny the way that the media reports things," she told ABC News. "After that debate my team and I we were literally high fiving each other thinking that we had exposed he doesn't know the First Amendment, and then when we read the reports that said the opposite we were all like 'what?'"

O'Donnell explained her line of questioning to Coons was not because she didn't know the First Amendment, but to the make the point the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment's declaration that Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" as a legal separation between government and faith.

"I asked him where in the Constitution is the phrase 'separation of church and state,'" O'Donnell recounted. "He said the First Amendment. I followed up with, 'Can you name the five freedoms that are guaranteed to us that are protected by the First Amendment?' And he could not."
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49 comments:

  1. Dr Jacobson

    ABC/CBS/NBC/PBS/NYT/MSMBC/WP et all have made up their minds...please don't confuse them with the fact.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The phrase is not in there, of course. But her (probably parroted) sophistry does not divorce the constitution from the establishment clause and the words Madison to describe IT, and not just what was desirable (which, they did that too). http://tiny.cc/wnn54 is food for the curious, did as deep as you please.

    I think it is generally agreed that is meant to apply to the powers of the federal govt; only incorporation, which was controversial b/c some said it was not a "personal" liberty, as the "free excercise" clause was very clearly.

    That does not take away either the ideal relationship of Government and church as proposed by the likes of Madison and Jeffereson, but more importantly it does not remove the point and purpose of the establishment clause as described by them.

    Separation of church and state is what they meant and believed they had achieved. They used that descriptive phrase to describe WHAT IS IN THE CONSTITUTION.

    It's sophistry, and lame and childish sophistry to go "neener neener, that phrase isn't in there". But how much worse is it that ODonnell didn't even qualify it that far? She very clumsily made her point, if that WAS her point. I believe it is worse than that. She does not understand what the Esablishment clause MEANS, what it was supposed to accomplish, to guard against.

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  3. I'll just add that if Christine O'Donnell does not subscribe to the tenets of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, she is worse than a fool, she is a dangerous person.

    I'd like to see her clear response to THAT.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "A literal reading of O'Donnell's comments reflects that she was correct, but of course, the press and the blogosphere don't want a literal reading, they want a living, breathing reading which comports with their preconceived notions."

    Thank you for stating the facts and the truth. I was appalled when I heard about the stink - and the laughter of the law students. Not surprised, but appalled nonetheless. I believe Christine O'Donnell needs to write an op-ed, published in Delaware papers and on Facebook, to present these facts to all, and emphasize the MSM's complicit attack and protection of Coons. This is JUST LIKE what they did to Sarah Palin in 2008, and what they continue to do to any Conservative woman (especially one who is pretty), without that all-important elite Ivy League education. In other words, a typical person who knows what she is talking about but is not, perhaps, as eloquent as those "better" educated - which is debatable in Coons' case, as Coons should have known better about both what the "establishment clause" says and what the "five freedoms" are in the Constitution.

    After seeing how the press ignored the elite Yalie being inexcusably ignorant and yet getting a pass (again, not a surprise), she needs to POUND this to all those Delaware voters: show them that this is just the same-old same-old that the Alinsy-ites, the Democrat machine behind Obama and Biden, Reid and Pelosi, have used - and re-used, for years.

    As always, I thank you, professor, for taking the time to put the truth out here for all those willing find it, willing to read and think. Will it help? Can the damage these drive-bys do be turned back into the faces of these instigators of hate? I hope so, I hope so. Your blog, presenting the facts clearly, makes the truth known.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "I think it is generally agreed that is meant to apply to the powers of the federal govt; only incorporation, which was controversial b/c some said it was not a "personal" liberty, as the "free excercise" clause was very clearly." -SarahW

    Huh?! Your comment is both a strawman and incoherent (see quote, above, for example). Please re-read Prof. Jacobson's blog entry, study it carefully, and go to the links he provides. Then try to make a coherent argument. Please?! Or better yet, take your trolling elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I came back to correct, per Ace(SHQ) that O'Donnell did specify she was questioning Coons about whether he thinks the PHRASE itself appears in the constitution.

    That much of my criticism is unfair, and I gladly retract it.

    What remains fair to criticize is her clumsiness, at the very least, in giving anyone anywhere the idea that she believes the constitution does not provide for separation of church and state, or that she actually BELIEVES is does not, if the phrase is absent.

    That is so much in the wrong as to be shocking.

    I would like to hear her say she adheres to the CONCEPT of separation of church as state as Jefferson and Madison did (as not only a desirable thing, but the effect of the establishment clause.)

    Moreover, that she not only adheres to the Deleware constitution and its protections, but the tenets of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  7. DIno apologies for my lack of clarity. It appears I did not include half of the sentence I was writing.

    The incorporation controversy I mentioned isn't imaginary, however. But rather than belabor what you consider a strawman, I'll point to a wiki link for anyone who cares to look at http://tiny.cc/u0qoo and guess what I was talking about.

    The point that really matters to me, now that O'Donnell has revealed she thinks the absence o that phrase is important; does she view separation of church and state as a fictive "good and welfare" clause,
    or does she have some respect for what the establishment clause actually guards against, as Madison described, and law followed.

    I would like to know what she thinks of the Delaware constitution, if she does not think that provides for separation of church and state, and more importantly does she reject the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom?

    ReplyDelete
  8. On a similar point, i am guest blogging and i caught the WaPo revising its article on O'Donnell.

    http://patterico.com/2010/10/20/wapoap-caught-revising-the-o%e2%80%99donnell-story-without-issuing-a-correction/

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Huh?! Your comment is both a strawman and incoherent (see quote, above, for example). Please re-read Prof. Jacobson's blog entry, study it carefully, and go to the links he provides. Then try to make a coherent argument. Please?! Or better yet, take your trolling elsewhere. "

    I wouldn't be surprised if SarahW was a Widener Law grad.

    ReplyDelete
  10. So one commenter is dissing O'Donnell's point, even though the whole point of bringing this up was because O'Donnell wasn't allowed to finish her point due to a rude eruption of laughter. For all the commenter knows, O'Donnell was going to make it all very clear had she not been interrupted.

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  11. come on now people, they're both running for the seat held for decades by Joe Biden; if either was to speak coherently it would go against years of Delaware voters' experience; you gotta play to your audience

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  12. i think the phrase "wall of separation" between church and state was Hugo Black in the Everson case holding that paying for busing Catholics to parochial schools with town funds did not breach that wall. that was 1948 which seems to me to be a very recent case, because i am old. but it is interesting that the "sepration" gloss, which everyone buys in to is a fairly recent one.

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  13. What is scarier is that as a Tea Partier she didn't know the 14th or 16th amendments.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The media doesn't care what is in the Constitution, they just want to make fun of O'Donnell.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think SarahW's remarks were "probably parroted." That explains why they admittedly didn't apply to this post or to O'Donnell.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I see your point Mr. Jacobson, but frankly, I can not see how your literal reading of the 1st Amendment can be made to work. How can lawmakers expressing their faith as a reason for passing laws do so without violating the principle that no law shall be passed based upon one's faith? It's clear that faith has no place in congress or the legislative process. As such, I have to stand by the notion of the separation of church and state.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Former DE Senator Joe Biden is of course now the VP, and therefore is President of the Senate. Next month, when Senator-Elect Cutie Pie of Delaware arrives at the Capitol building for the swearing-in ceremony, will VP Biden administer the oath? More importantly, will she be able to adequately hear the oath she is to repeat, since it will likely be uttered by VP Biden through gritted teeth?

    As you might have guessed, I regard the O'Donnell first amendment brouhaha as nothing more than yet another manufactured controversy which will ultimately prove to be a non-factor to the voters of Delaware.

    ReplyDelete
  18. The Establishment clause prevents the government from hiring only those from the "established" religion in those days, the Church of England. As America was settled on a basis of religious freedom, this practice is to be avoided. The clause does not mean that the government has to be atheistic in its daily business only that atheists can work for Uncle Sam like everybody else

    ReplyDelete
  19. I find myself on your blog from time to time via headlines from Google Blog Search...most often I'm in disagreement with your positions and would describe myself as a social progressive (absolutely not to be confused with "liberal")...

    So with that said, I wanted to say that both your argument here - as well as the wording with which it is presented - are intelligent, fair, and uninidealogical.

    If the media mishandles O'Donnell's statements, however, it's because of her history of radical, inarticulate statements and positions which are well documented. Sadly, this "gaffe" (which, as you point out is no gaffe at all) is too easily lumped in with all those previous instances.

    Most importantly though, let's not kid ourselves with the notion that either O'Donnell or Coons grasp the legal nuances of the issue at hand. Both are approaching the question of religious/governmental separation from an idealogical position - not a legal one.

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  20. Frankly, whether O'Donnell has memorized the entire Constitution or not is irrelevant. I would wager most, even those currently serving in Congress, haven't.

    And whether leftists or the media (redundancy alert) laugh, gasp and mock her makes little difference either.

    What makes a whole heap of difference is that she won her primary against all odds while being scoffed at and will be a dependable advocate for the Constitution should she be elected in November.

    I doubt Thomas Jefferson told members of the Constitutional Congress that they needed to pass the Constitution "so you can find out what is in it."

    Pelosi et al are the one's we need to worry about.

    This entire debate is a distraction.

    Keep your eye on the ball folks, i.e. America needs Constitutional conservatives serving in Congress and at the local levels to keep the Progressive freight train from steamrolling this country and sinking us into a Marxist abyss.

    NEW POST:

    HOMELAND SECURITY UNVEILS NEW BORDER SECURITY STRATEGY: LOSE YOUR JOB!
    http://heir2freedom.blogspot.com/2010/10/homeland-security-unveils-new-border.html

    ReplyDelete
  21. I don't pretend to know what was in Christine O'Donnell's mind; I wish she had been more clear in her statement. But I do want to point out that the argument here -- that the Constitution does not mandate a "separation of church and state" -- is not sophistry. It is in fact a fight against sophistry of a particularly invidious sort.

    Even a cursory examination of the birth of our nation makes it clear that the Founders were attempting to foster religious freedom, and especially to encourage its expression over its suppression. Regardless of your position about whether or not this country is a Christian one, only the stubbornest of viewpoints could say the Founders expected government to be without God. References to God and the Creator are too numerous.

    Given that context, the phrasing of the First Amendment couldn't be plainer: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Why is the second half of that clause always left off? It explicitly states that Congress cannot prevent the exercise of religion. The sophistry I alluded to is the way that the radical anti-religious have insisted that this phrase means that all people should be free FROM religion, and that this goal should be accomplished by removing every vestige of religion from all public places, lest some non-religious person be offended.

    That's just not true. The First Amendment simply makes the point that in America we are free -- indeed encouraged! -- to exercise our religious beliefs, and like so many things we are free to do so as long as we don't impinge on the rights of others. But note there is NO RIGHT anywhere in the Constitution, express or implied, to not being offended. In fact, our great strength is our ability to embrace that which offends us, and to fight and even die for the rights of someone to be offensive.

    So, to sum up, the First Amendment doesn't say there is no religion in the public sphere, simply that there is no single state-sponsored religion. Someone can put up a Christmas tree as long as someone else can put up a menora.

    ReplyDelete
  22. The problem isn't that Ms. O'Donnell believes that the Establishment Clause doesn't mean "seperation of Church and State". The problem is that she is completely unaware that the establishment clause exists in the first place. After having been read the exact text of the First Amendment verbatim she asks bewilderedly, "That's in there?". She doesn't seem to be making the semantic argument that a distinguished Cornell law professor might make to get people confused about the founder's intentions with the 1st Amendment's establishment clause, but rather she is demonstrating her complete lack of understanding of the Bill of Rights itself, which most children learn in junior high and something that I'd expect all people running for office would have a basic understanding of prior to having the gall to attempt to represent people in a law-making body.

    When you are told the exact wording of the 1st Amendment and then say, "That's in there?", then you deserve to be chided as an ignoramus.

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  23. simkatu, I'm sure that you're tiny mind desperately wishes that the antecedent of Christine's "that" was Coons' poor recitation of the Establishment clause. It was in fact referring to Coon's mention of "separation of church and state".

    Unpolished, maybe. Christine hasn't been groomed since birth for the ruling class like your man Coons has.

    "I'd expect all people running for office would have a basic understanding of (the Bill of Rights) prior to having the gall to attempt to represent people in a law-making body." And its ironic that your buddy Coons was unable to name any other freedoms enumerated in the first amendment beyond "separation of church and state".

    ReplyDelete
  24. Wow. So... this is what you guys are going with? Just let it go, bro. She's not going to win, and she's not going to have sex with you.

    If it were just the separation thing, sure, I could see it. Pretty much the entire right wing agrees that the "wall of separation" is a liberal myth, that this is One Nation Under the Lord Jesus Christ, and that Real America is allowed to outlaw heathen religions like Islam and science. Or something like that.

    But to assume that, in the span of a second, she was able to identify Coons's words as a misquote, read the misquote as a deliberate reinterpretation, parse the legal implications of that interpretation, and dismiss them as being identical to the separation metaphor is just plain wackiness. Her brain doesn't work that quickly. No one's does.

    The more likely scenario is that Ms. O'Donnell did not know (and therefore did not recognize) the exact wording of the First Amendment, instead assuming it merely guaranteed "freedom of religion" the same way it guarantees "freedom of speech [and] of the press" and so on. By itself, that's no sin. I can't recite the Third Amendment by heart, but I know it's the anti-Quartering Act one. And if someone quoted (however poorly) the Free Exercise Clause to O'Donnell, she'd probably nod in approval. The problem is that, unlike the other four freedoms in the First Amendment, the free exercise of religion has a flipside of which she was apparently unaware. And that flipside is what causes problems for creationism in public schools, at least if you buy into the incorporation doctrine or if the school receives federal funding. O'Donnell would be better served by focusing her ire on those two issues rather than on the frickin' Bill of Rights.

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  25. The way I heard it, shortly after he used the phrase "seperation of church and state," O'Donnel heard Coons quote the first Amendment verbatim, and then uttered the line she was prepared for, expressing dismay that the words he used were in the first amendment. That's why the crowd broke out in laughter, because she was prepared to pounce when Coons claimed there was "seperation of chuch and state" in the constitution, but he didn't oblige. She was simply too slow witted to edit her script.

    Sure, a debate about whether the concept is in the first amendment is fine, but given that performance, crediting O'Donnell with being equipped to do anymore than memorize someone else's talking points on the subject is a bit much.

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  26. If the media mishandles O'Donnell's statements, however, it's because of her history of radical, inarticulate statements and positions which are well documented.

    Uhh..no - it's because they are campaigning against her.

    ReplyDelete
  27. They can't abort a dead child. Only if the child is living can they make their beloved "choice".

    ReplyDelete
  28. No, she was wrong and did not recognize a citation of the First Amendment.

    But by extending your logic, the Second Amendment doesn't use the word "guns" so guns are not protected by the constitution, just your arms.

    /Waves!

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  29. Well duh. Of course the exact phrase "Separation of Church and State" doesn't appear in the Constitution. To imply that Christine O'Donnell was somehow making a point is really reaching. The thing is, I have a real problem with people who think that creation myths should be taught as an alternative to evolution in public schools. Okay then, which version SHOULD be taught? Christian? Babylonian? Native American (of which there are many)? Whether it's at the local or state level, no such mandate should be made because it is in fact mythology attempting to be passed off as science.

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  30. The US House, the DAY AFTER voting out the first Amendment as agreed upon in conference with the Senate ( http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llac&fileName=001%2Fllac001.db&recNum=475 ) did also vote to request a proclamation of thanksgiving: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llac&fileName=001%2Fllac001.db&recNum=476

    The text:

    Br. Boudinot said, he could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

    Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Remember that the Constitution limits the authority of the federal tyrant. It does not limit the authority of the church. The federal government is prohibited from establishing a church and from regulating the free exercise thereof. This is different creating a wall of seperation. The federal government is denied access to the church. The church has free access to the federal government. Jefferson (who was not at the Constitutional convention or at the adoption of the Bill of Rights) and the courts have gotten this wrong.

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  32. Nevermind this huge gaffe. Anyone who takes a stance against masturbation deserves the maximum amount of mockery and ridicule that can be heaped upon them.

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  33. @serfdood:
    But that is exactly the point she was making. Look at the context of the debate. Coons was arguing (like you) that creationism should not be taught in public schools. And he backed it up by saying that the Constitution established separation of church and state. O'Donnell asked him where the it says 'separation of church and state' in the constitution. He fumbled a quote saying that Government Shall Not Establish Religion. When in reality the First Amendment references CONGRESS making NO LAWS with respect to the establishment of religion. O'Donnell's point was that Coons' interpretation is very different than what is actually there.

    What I just wrote was a short summary of almost exactly what Professor Jacobson wrote, and you obviously did not read before responding.

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  34. ‘In God We Trust’ on coinage is not unconstitutional. No one is forcing you to believe, even read it. They could also say, ‘In Al Gore We Trust’, but how stupid would that be… we know that he’s a fraud…. and no one can prove that God does not exist as a supreme force of creation over the universe.

    DavidCustisKimball.com

    ReplyDelete
  35. @Van: and where, I ask you, is that "principle" to be found in the Constitution, hmmm?

    If you guessed "nowhere," you'd be right. The Founders knew that legislators, like anyone else, would be human, and thus prone to make decisions and votes based on their faith and personal conscience (such as that may be in a politician.)

    NOWHERE do they state that an individual legislator's faith should not be used to formulate their decisions.

    The literal reading of the First Amendment is the correct one.

    The Founders, you see, resorted to plain language, in the (obviously forlorn) hope that later generations would be able to understand the words to mean the same things as they intended. The times when there are greater implications from the literal, exact words of the Constitution, they amplified and expanded upon their words in subsequent sections of text within the Constitution.

    Your comical notion seems to be that as a nation we were intended to freely interpret the laws set forth in the Constitution as required by the situation.

    This is not the case; the Constitution was intended to prevent the federal government entirely from doing certain kinds of things the Founders considered hallmarks of abusive government.

    Had there ever been an intent to manufacture a total separation of faith from every aspect of government, they would have set that forth in the text.

    In fact they did not do so.

    The fact that they did not do so proves, as supported quite extensively by their writings at the time, that such was not their intent.

    The Founders came here largely from England, a country which at that time had an official, legally-mandated religion to which all citizens were expected to adhere.

    The relevant portion of the First Amendment was intended to ensure that such could not happen in the United States, because the federal government would be expressly prohibited from doing so, and prohibited from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

    So, you know, try again.

    ReplyDelete
  36. @Robert
    I did read the article. The whole thing. What I see is a lot of "after the fact" analysis and assumptions of O'Donnell's intentions with this line of questioning during the debate. If she wanted to make a point, she obviously failed with much of the debate audience. What I see in the followup is "I/we/she meant to do that to make a point" Fine. Politicians do that all the time, clarify what the said previously. My personal opinion is that O'Donnell does not have the capacity for "nuance", as this article implied.

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  37. bill you are correct and expressed the point beautifully.

    ReplyDelete
  38. What do you expect from a fifth-tier law school like Widener? They know what they've heard about the Constitution. Some of us from Philly actually read the Constitution a few hundred times, suspected that O'Donnell was taking a nuanced shot at the pinhead Coons, and were repulsed by the simpletons in Widener's audience reacting in the unschooled way they did. Y'all better beef up you ConLaw classes or you'll start believing Obama is a scholar.

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  39. How interesting that so many of the commenters here and elsewhere who jumped on Christine O'Donnell's seeming lack of knowledge of the content of the First Amendment make no mention of the fact that she knew there were precisely five freedoms listed in the amendment.

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  40. I am a Catholic and I believe in the concept of separation of Church and State. More than likely Christine O'Donnell believes in it as well.

    One has to understand the background and the history behind why the establishment clause was included in your Constitution. It has everything to do with the notion of a State religion.

    This history is in fact quite ancient. I can cite two examples (one is Biblical from the Books of the Maccabees) where people were persecuted in a cruel fashion because they refused to worship the "state" gods. The other example is that of the early Christians who were persecuted by the Romans, especially Nero and Diocletian (but I digress).

    The founding fathers came from England and others came from Europe where there had bee a State religion. No dissension was allowed. Those who were non-conformist were persecuted. England's history, especially after Henry VIII declared himself as head of the Church of England was very bloody.

    These first settlers had set out from England and Europe in order to escape the various forms of persecutions and wars in their own countries. It is unsurprising that the constitution contains the establishment clause.

    However, like one person noted, modern jurists (of the 20th century) changed the meaning of separation of church and state to mean that the govt should not provide funding etc. etc. In more recent years it has taken on a more sinister meaning including the banning of reading Bibles in government schools. This kind of thing is not what was intended.

    The fact is that Coons supports this modern notion of the separation of church and state, since he wants to see all Christian practices such as school prayer etc. etc. banned, and O'Donnell believes in what the founding fathers originally believed.

    There is not one good reason for stopping the teaching of Creation Science (even if I disagree with the concepts of Creation Science). Likewise there is not one good reason to stop teaching Evolution. Students should be allowed to study each concept or theory so that they make up their own minds. At the moment such exploration in scholarship is being stifled by the liberals.

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  41. Many who attack Christine O'Donnell in the comments section here seem to want to believe that she really wasn't familiar with the first amendment when she challenged Coons with "That's in the First Amendment?"

    They want to believe that Christine wasn’t challenging the "government" part of Coons misquote and was instead really unfamiliar with the "make no establishment of religion" part.

    But this is ridiculous:

    (1) She fully knew that criticism about here support of creationism was headed her way. And she clearly understood that liberals like Coons believe that creationism = religion. And she knew that this would lead Coons to attack her with the phrase "separation of Church and State". This should be obvious. A 3rd grader would have anticipated this.

    (2) The way she challenged Coons about him not knowing all the protections of the first Amendment means that she was "banking" on him not knowing... and this was obviously part of her pre-planned response to his "separation of church and state" assertion. Therefore, her debate prep would have included re-reading the 1st amendment about 100 times during the debate prep. Think about it... if you were planning to embarrass (even ambush!) your opponent about his lack of knowledge of a section of law about the size of a short paragraph, wouldn't you pretty much memorize that paragraph just before the debate--so as to prevent yourself from putting your own foot in your mouth? This is also a "given". So when Coons changed the word "Congress" to "government"... it would have sounded totally about of place to someone who would have just read the actual passage 100 times in the previous days! And her reaction then makes perfect sense. One commenter stated that she couldn't have been so fast to react. But if you've just read something 100 times, it is easy to QUICKLY recognize a glaring misquote and challenge your opponent on that.

    To think that, instead, she was questioning the existence of "make no establishment of religion"... especially under THESE circumstances... is ridiculous. Anyone who believes that is dumb.

    (3) Finally, within the Conservative and Libertarian limited-Gov't circles, talk about how the Bill of Rights referring to "Congress shall" is a common topic. We discuss all the time how the Bill of Rights originally placed ONLY limitations on the Federal Gov't --AND--during those SAME discussions about this which Conservatives and Libertarians have, someone always brings up that the phrase "separation of Church and State" doesn't appear in the Constitution or in any written law. (it was merely in an obscure letter Jefferson wrote)

    Therefore, it is TOTALLY believable and consistent that O'Donnell would have been very aware during the debate that the Bill of Rights used the term "Congress shall" and NOT "Government shall"... and she correctly thought that she was scoring points when she called Coons out on that... and Coons' language switcheroo really does fundamentally change the meaning of the 1st Amendment, which is why Christine called him on that.

    The fact that liberals don't understand this only shows how stupidly indoctrinated they are by their liberal professors--not knowing that actual text and original intent--but being well familiar with liberal orthodoxy cliches.

    Any liberal who reads this and STILL thinks that O'Donnell wasn't calling Coons on the "government" part of that quote is hopelessly biased and can't handle the truth.

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  42. I'm trying to find where she or the moderators specifically challenged him to name the 5 freedoms in the first amendment. If he couldn't then shame on him, but I can't seem to find a debate transcript or video that shows that. I see the exchange with the separation of church and state discussion, but haven't found anything with a specific question on the "five freedoms", as O'Donnell and others say that she followed up with.

    @Maggie
    There IS a very good reason for not teaching what you (and other creationists call) "Creation Science" along side of evolution. It's simply not science; adding the word doesn't make it so.

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  43. Okay found it. He basically blew her off from the 5 freedoms question. I saw no fumbling and I can't really discern whether he could not answer the question or did not deign to do so. It was weird though. They were just done talking about whether or not faith-based organizations have a role providing services with federal money to those in need. That discussion was kinda relevant to the 1st amendment topic but her question seemed out of context. That might have worked if she asked it earlier but seems like it was an afterthought. If there was a "1st amendment" strategy she was way off the mark on when she really should have asked that question.

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  44. @serfdood

    Please read what I said again... I am a Catholic and I do not believe in Creation Science.

    When I was at school we learned about the Creation story in religious instruction. We read the Bible in context, and we understood that there was a wider meaning to that context.

    The argument that "It is simply not science" is pithy to say the least.

    If you have ever come across people who do in fact advocate Creation Science alone you would discover that they have gone into "the science" to try and prove others wrong!!

    My point is that if you open students up to both sides then they should be given the ability to test the theories of both sides.

    BTW Evolution is also NOT SCIENCE. It is nothing more than a theory. The theory, especially the the Darwinism theory requires rigorous testing. So far Darwinism has been failing because there are gaps. On the other hand, Creationism fails because of the belief in the young earth, and I disagree with that belief.

    It is something like this belief in the young earth which is why I believe that both should be taught, compared and contrasted. In that way students get the wider view.

    Liberals are stifling real scholarship by the stance that they take. At the same time, those fundamentalist Creationists are also stifling scholarship by refusing to allow their children to explore what we all know about the evolution of the earth.

    FYI as I Catholic, (and Christine O'Donnell is a Catholic too), I believe that Genesis (which is where you find the belief in Creation Science) can be reconciled to evolution of the earth, but not to Darwinism. The Creationists believe that each day is a literal 24 hour period. However, this is not how Genesis should be interpreted. A day, or where it says that day turned into night and then it was morning, represents in my view the passing of perhaps millions of years which is the passing of each era of the earth.

    If such comparisons were taught then people would be more comfortable with Genesis which is indeed story-telling, or giving a simple explanation for a complex situation to describe what has taken place over a long period of time.

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  45. serfdood,

    You are entitled to your opinion, but this is probably not the forum to argue creation vs. evolution, or whether creationism can be called a science.

    What is important, and actually relevant to this blog post, is that O'Donnell believes that this is a matter that should be left up to the States and the people, and simply isn't the job of the federal gov't.

    In contrast, if O'Donnell were running for school superintendent, or governor.. you'd then have a point worth discussing.

    But since she is running for a position in the Federal gov't --AND-- her position that the Federal gov't should stay out of such matters.. this trumps whatever her personal opinion may be regarding creationism vs. evolution.

    Personally, I find it refreshing that a candidate for higher office in the Federal Gov't actually understands the 9th and 10th amendments... and doesn't have the goal of endlessly expanding the Fed's power... delving into all aspects of our lives... and I also like the fact that she actually values the Constitution and desires to follow it!

    Sadly, such candidates like O'Donnell seem to be nearing extinction.

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  46. SarahW, you are insisting on an anachronism. "Separation of church and state," even when Jefferson said it, did not mean that there were not state churches; it meant Congress could not make laws about establishment of religion---neither for, nor against. Why not against? Because there were, at both the time of the Constitution's writing and adoption, and at the time Jefferson wrote his letter (his letter being legally irrelevant), established churches in some states.

    Fight this as much as you want, you are the one who is being ahistorical. You're trying to foist onto the First Amendment's establishment clause a 20th century liberal's meaning that it simply did not have until about 1947---and even then, only to people who accept a plainly fallacious argument from a Supreme Court justice.

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  47. Rob,
    You are correct, I got a little of topic starting with my first post, but I do see teaching creationism in schools is tantamount to Government promotion of religion. The local or state level already does decide on what to teach in schools; it just concerns me when people like O'Donnell espouse those types of beliefs, especially at the national level. What they say today might be a very different tune tomorrow if they happen to get into power. That goes for any candidate.

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  48. serfdoof,

    And teaching evolution as "fact"... is not promotion of atheism? (particularly when there are actually MANY problems with evolution!)

    Moreover, the term "creationism" is a loaded term which... yes... DOES imply religion. That is why many prefer to use the term "intelligent design"... which doesn't deal in theology--just science... just the observable and provable scientific facts!

    Basically, if you were walking through a mountain, and you saw hyroglifics carved into the stone on a cave wall, you wouldn't think "wow, I wonder how long it took for those markings to evolve?". Instead, you'd recognize "intelligence" in the design. You wouldn't dare think that they happened by chance based on the elements like wind and sand and time, would you?

    In the same way, many honest science look at the fossil record, molecular structures, DNA, and behavior of life under observation in the lab... and they conclude (a) that they see signs of intelligent design, and (b) they see massive shortcomings and inconsistencies with the "goo-to-you" theory of evolution (i.e. macro evolution).

    Sure their is indisputable evidence of "changes" over time within "genus" and/or species, but even this has NEVER been absolutely proven to be upward evolution. Likewise, the vast majority (as in something like 100%) of mutations w/natural selection produced lateral or downward offspring (DEvolution!). A single example of non-controversial upward evolution has NOT EVER been observed in the lab. Ever! (I dare you to prove me wrong on this one!)

    So, again, given this brief summary, why not teach ALL viewpoints, and ALL theories (that are supported by a sizable number of scientists), and let the evidence speak for itself?

    How is it "scientific" to rule out possibilities like intelligent design based on pre-conceived philosophical biases?

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  49. "Todd said...
    The US House, the DAY AFTER voting out the first Amendment as agreed upon in conference with the Senate did also vote to request a proclamation of thanksgiving [to Almighty God]"

    Todd, that info is absolutely devastating to the ACLU perspective. It indicates the very people who passed the first amendment did not intend to purge religion from government. Did you find that yourself or in someone else's research? Either way I would like to see more if you have links to point us in that direction. Thanks.

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