Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Things First

Didn’t they cover this in middle school social studies?

Republican Christine O’Donnell challenged her Democratic rival Tuesday to show where the Constitution requires separation of church and state, drawing swift criticism from her opponent, laughter from her law school audience and a quick defense from prominent conservatives.

“Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked while Democrat Chris Coons, an attorney, sat a few feet away.

Coons responded that O’Donnell’s question “reveals her fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is. … The First Amendment establishes a separation.”

She interrupted to say, “The First Amendment does? … So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase ‘separation of church and state,’ is in the First Amendment?”

Her campaign issued a statement later saying O’Donnell “was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution.”

Just to be fair — and go way out on a limb — let’s assume that Ms. O’Donnell is familiar with the text of the First Amendment, including the Establishment clause. This is a little game that the right-wingers and the Jesus-shouters like to play; they insist that since the First Amendment doesn’t literally say “separation of church and state,” then it’s perfectly okay to have the state sanction the teaching of biblical mythology as science. It’s like dealing with six-year-olds: “I told you no cookies before dinner!” “But you didn’t say I couldn’t have cake!”

This is also the same mentality that calls for strict construction of First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, but says the Tenth is wide open to interpretation for their own purposes in defining the role of the federal government and cannot grasp the concept of the definition of citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth. As Digby notes, “In their view, the constitution was written for Christian conservatives to use to protect the country from those who disagree with them.”

Let’s just say that we should be a tad skeptical of the interpretation of the Constitution from someone who believes that the world literally began with two naked people and a talking snake.