O'Donnell: "That’s in the First Amendment?"

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 19, 2010 2:59 pm

Eye-opening video of the exchange described in the previous post when during a Senatorial debate Christine O’Donnell asked Chris Coons “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” (At 2:50)

It’s important to note that the Tea Party is NOT synonymous with the Republican party.

* As Phil explains:

I suspect some people in the comments will want to get pedantic, and point out that..O’Donnell was trying to be clever, talking about the literal expression “separation of Church and State” not being in the First Amendment. That is true (although the expression was first used by Thomas Jefferson). However, her opponent then goes on to quote the First Amendment more or less correctly, saying “the government shall make no establishment of religion”, to which O’Donnell asks, “That’s in the First Amendment?”. If she was trying to be clever, she failed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science

Comments (61)

  1. robopanda

    I love how she smiles when everybody laughed at her like “I got him!” No, dummy, they’re laughing at you, not with you.

  2. Seriously, this is not an election for Freshman class President. It’s an election for United States Senator. To not have even the faintest idea of what the Constitution says or the difference between science and religion, and yet be the Republican nominee for Senator of her state, is unimaginable in a sane world.

  3. Nick

    The Tea Party keeps me awake at night and makes me cry.

  4. If it weren’t for the Tea Party marketing strategy, the Republicans would be facing a decade of irrelevance after the dabacle of the Bush years.

    If it weren’t for the Republican party apparatus of fund raisers, pundits, PACs and its media wing (Fox News), the Tea Party would still be a marginal bunch of Ron Paul followers.

    The two are utterly co-dependent on each other.

    As long as the net effect of their partnership is the nomination of unelectable loons and boobies, I’m all for it.

  5. Sigh

    I’m going to regret this, but here it is:

    1. If I were a citizen of Delaware, I’d vote for Chris Coons. So this comment isn’t about defending O’Donnell, but explaining where she might (confusedly) be coming from.

    2. The First Amendment states in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

    3. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT. His letter included this memorable sentence:
    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 & State.

    4. Per Wikipedia:
    “In its 1879 Reynolds v. United States decision the high court said Jefferson’s observations ‘may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.’

    5. Per Wikipedia again:
    “In the court’s 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote, ‘In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.’

    6. Many conservatives, particularly of the wing that Andrew Sullivan famously dubbed “Christianists,” who like the potted crazy-history of Glenn Beck, have taken to complaining that Jefferson’s “wall of separation” language is not the best way to interpret the First Amdendment, but that instead, that Amendment should only be read to do two things:
    a) Prohibit the U.S. from having an “established church” like the Church of England, or the Episcopal Church in colonial Virginia, or Congregationalism among the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
    b) Protect the “free exercise” of religion FROM government, not governmental institutions like public schools from religion.

    7. While lots of the Christianists who shout about point 6 above are crazy Beck-watchers who don’t know any real U.S. history, the actual IDEA in 6 is a reasonable (if not perhaps correct–but reasonable, non-crazy people can be on both sides) interpretation of the intentions of Madison, Hamilton, and the other founders, who were far more conservative on such matters than the famously deist Jefferson, who was actually busy being our ambassador in France when the Constitution was drafted, and therefore isn’t much of a source on “original intent” questions. In other words, 2+2=4 even if Hitler (or Christine O’Donnell) says it does.

    8. Christine O’Donnell was probably, in the debate, trying to make some version of point 6 above, challenging Chris Coons to actually FIND the exact phrase “separation of church and state” in the text of the Constitution. This was a fair point, but she’s so used to the shared assumptions of the conservative echo chamber, and so dim (poor thing) that she didn’t do a very articulate job of it.

    9. To sum up: This was a fair point, even if O’Donnell didn’t (because given her brainpower, she couldn’t) lay out why.

    10. There’s plenty of legitimate stuff to rake poor O’Donnell over the coals with. And she’s going to lose to Coons in a blowout. So leave this one alone.

  6. John

    Here is the Amendment in full – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Now where exactly does this address separation of church and state? It does not it was meant to prevent the government from preventing someone to have a particular religious belief. Somehow this has been perpetuated into this separation as in there can not be a plaque with the Ten Commandments in a Federal building. You make it sound like no Democratic Representative has ever said anything completely stupid i.e. the President saying there were 57 states, or “we gotta pass this bill so we can figure out whats in it….

    ——————————————————————————–

  7. * It’s important to note that the Tea Party is NOT synonymous with the Republican party.

    What is the point of the footnote? The GOP has made it clear that they will support nearly any/all TP candidates no matter how insane. The Tea Party is supported by the same folks who support the GOP, and the GOP itself.

    While there are two different names, I’m not so sure they are “different”.

  8. Jon

    John: Here is the Amendment in full – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

    The government can’t establish religion–and Jefferson coined the phrase about the 1st amendment, that it would establish “a wall between church and state.” This is common knowledge for anyone who knows the constitution.

    What makes O’Donnell’s statement so comical is the whole Tea Party line about re-establishing the constitution (which they naively assume must reinforce all their views). But if you don’t know the 1st Amendment and its history, you don’t know thing #1 about the constitution.

    The incredible extent of projection and ignorance–that’s what makes it such a great line.

  9. @7 PalMD,
    I make the distinction and it is important because many moderate Republicans do not support the values of the Tea Party. There is a difference.

  10. Alex T.

    Echoing what PalMD said, even if the’re not “synonymous,” of the 80 or so candidates that the tea party has endorsed, none are Democrats. I think the footnote may be true at face value but it is also misleading.

  11. CW

    Sheril, I stopped calling myself a Republican because I can’t even find any moderate Republicans that have any influence in today’s political climate. I’m joining the Modern Whigs.

    John: I think apologists and defenders of O’Donnell’s obvious ignorance is just another example of lowering the bar. When both sides have to go out of their way to defend a politician’s ignorance, dishonesty, or broken campaign promises – then all we’re doing is settling for a subpar government.

  12. Alex T.

    Sheril if that’s true please name five Republican members of Congress who have publically disavowed the tea party. I will be impressed if you can make it to three.

  13. -many moderate Republicans do not support the values of the Tea Party. There is a difference.

    That may be true but there are two problems. Firstly, where are these moderate Republicans that you mention? They are either non-existent or their voices have been almost completely drowned out by the radicals like Beck, Bachmann, Palin and Limbaugh (who are now considered mainstream). Consider that “moderate Republicans” were either absent or of no help for healthcare reform or the climate change bill. Even if they oppose the TP in principle they don’t seem interested in being contrarians and will support the rest of the GOP in practice. As far as the party line goes, they have almost no influence on the national dialogue, so the fact that they may not support the TP may turn out to be meaningless.

    Secondly, as someone mentioned before, it is very likely that the Republicans would bring the TP into their fold. If they can get some valuable votes by appeasing fundamentalists like O’Donnell, they would do that in a heartbeat. After all the GOP has never had a real problem with fundamentalists. And when it’s a question of getting votes in an important election, I have no doubt that they would sign a contract with the TP.

  14. FUAG

    @10: Moderate Republican Here! Beck is crazy, Palin is way to evangelical, Limbaugh is a dangerous nut job, and I don’t even know who Bachmann is! The reason you think these people are mainstream is because the liberal media only shows you their point of view; thus, making conservatives seem like a bunch of crazy people that don’t believe in evolution. This “conservatives need to get out their caves” mentality is what is going to cause liberals to loose their majority.

    Thank you Sheril for making the distinction… a person can be conservative and still support stem cell research, gun control, and legal abortions all while not believing in god.

  15. Victor

    @14: Sounds awfully libertarian to me

  16. FUAG

    @15: Probably closest to my ideology, yes. I would consider myself a capitalist but understand that capitalism doesn’t work as an absolute (much like communism on the other side of the scale). Government must have some control to insure fair play, equal opportunity for all, defense, infrastructure, and education.

    I call myself “Moderate Republican” because it’s as close as I can get in a two party system. In actuality, there has been no organized party that I feel represents my ideology since Reagan.

    As a side note, my father is a registered Democrat that absolutely believes that Jesus was the son of god and it’s a sin to perform an abortion at any stage. So, it’s not just republicans…

  17. In actuality, there has been no organized party that I feel represents my ideology since Reagan.

    After all, he did so much for the Black citizens of South Africa.

    Keep up the good work.

  18. FUAG

    Doug, I’d say your post was outdated but blogs did not exist when that post was relevant.

  19. JJ

    @FUAG, #14 Well said, I share your sentiments. This blog is also guilty of cherry picking the nuts of the Republican Party and exploiting them. Republicans are not all religious nuts, they’re not anti-science, and they will never overturn Rowe v. Wade, even if most of them are personally against abortion.

  20. al3x

    Im just gonna throw this out there, this isn’t half as bad as Hank Johnson or Alvin Greene…

  21. Jason

    @14 It’s not really the liberal media hyping these individuals as the voice of the Republican party, it is Fox News which gives these individuals the most air time and hires them as news anchors… rather than moderate fiscal conservatives. If FoxNews treated these individuals like the wing-nuts they were, I’d be more inclined to agree that this an isolated event. I’d be even more agreeable to that perception of O’Donnell hadn’t won the primary against another Republican.

    She is part of a ‘Palin Syndrome’. An attractive, upper middle-class woman with social conservative values. A broad spectrum of conservative voters don’t care for anything else, including her experience, intelligence and history. They go above and beyond to make excuses for her lacking the necessary qualities as a politician, accusing others of being sexist when they question her intelligence. The reason they can’t win with this sort of politician is that it alienates the moderate ‘Reagan’ base just as Palin did with McCain. Even if it doesn’t drive them to vote Democrat, it drives them to be either apathetic or vote third-party.

  22. wjv

    The important thing that’s lost here is Mr. Coons words “it’s been enshrined by court decisions…”

    While the exact phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the constitution nor in Jefferson’s letter to the DanburyBaptists. Jeffereson, in his letter, does use the phrase separation between church and state,” but his letter should have no legal bearing unless…

    Well unless the Supreme Court has any opinions on it. The Supreme Court in Reynolds v US declared Jefferson’s analysis of the first amendment as expressed in that letter “authoritative interpretation.”

    The Supreme Court in Engels v. Vitale used the phrase “separation between church and state” and said it was implied by the first amendment. So are we arguing over a preposition? what is it that differentiates “of” and “between” in these contexts? I would submit nothing.

    Good Day!

  23. David

    @5 Sigh presents an excellent review of the issue, and I thank him for doing so clearly. But even with his caveats he still gives O’Donnell far too much credit in his point 8 for understanding the issue enough to espouse a particular interpretation. In fact, it was clear that she had no awareness of what the actual language of the first amendment was at all, and most certainly not the finer points of the church/state separation discussion. She was, in fact, utterly ignorant of anything but her canned proselytizing.

    Barring mass hypnosis it appears that she will lose the election. But I have to again question how such an uninformed and frankly, downright bizarre, candidate could actually be the nominee of a major political party. The answer is that she is a product of the Sarah Palin production company, with an additional boost from DeMint’s minions, but most importantly, with substantive financial backing from the Tea Party Express and other outside lobbying groups. This is the case also in Alaska, Nevada and perhaps in other states as well. One commonality of these states is that they have small populations, and thus only relatively small mobilization efforts are needed to fundamentally affect the election results. And with the influx of many millions of dollars of secret lobbyist and corporate cash as a result of the Citizens United decision, the election is clearly not up to the people, but up to the subset of rabid ideologues and extremists that are mobilized by irrational and often surreal visions of pseudoreality. The scariest part is that most of them are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being used as pawns by the corporate lobbyist machines that fund, and flame, their anger.

    And that is what makes this election so dangerous.

  24. Rick Armstong

    If there is a wall, like the one between the press and government – it’s a one way wall, meant to protect the church or other religious groups from governtment, not government from the influence of religion. She didn’t express it well -but O’Donnell’s point was that Coons(and most of the writers on this site) have reflexively reinterpreted the Constitution reflecting their irrational fear of the Church instead of what ought to be more suspicion of an interfering Government.

  25. Chad

    “reflecting their irrational fear of the Church instead of what ought to be more suspicion of an interfering Government.”

    It is not irrational to fear the Church.

    And, CW is dead on. Defending O’Donnell as a candidate is like defending John Goodman as a legit Olympic 100 meter sprinter…it’s hilarious.

  26. Rick Armstong

    What has the church done to you to give you a rational fear of it? I can understand a rational fear of militant islamists who are inspired to take their Sharia law into their own hands and kill you or me – or a crowd on a street corner, but whàt have you to fear of christians that you feel the government must curb their liberties? The christian faith is the very foundation of the principles of the Constitution. In fact, those who don’t believe in a Creator have already surrendered the concept of “inalienable rights”. They allow government to give them rights AND take them away.

  27. Jon

    What has the church done to you to give you a rational fear of it?

    Three words: George W Bush.

    No one should curb anyone elses liberties. You have a right not to be sent to war for hidden reasons, not to have your phone wiretapped, not to be tortured by the US government, not to be held without trial. Government scientists should be at liberty to speak to the press about their findings without being censored by young political apparatchiks. You have a right not to have your tax dollars sent to religious organizations that are patronized by the governing party. You have a right to expect the US justice department not to be staffed disproportionately by unqualified people from certain barely-accredited religious universities…

    The christian faith is the very foundation of the principles of the Constitution.

    The Christian faith is *one piece* of the foundation of the Constitution. Civic Republicanism is not particularly Christian, it is Greco-Roman.

    In fact, those who don’t believe in a Creator have already surrendered the concept of “inalienable rights”.

    You can’t surrender “inalienable rights”–because they’re inalienable. They don’t become “alienable” just because you’re an atheist. That’s absurd.

  28. Andy Taylor

    It would be nice if anybody who ran for office had to take a test on the constitution. Alas, in these United States you don’t have to know what is in the constitution to be in government. This is sad.

  29. Kathy

    Um…. I hate to tell you, but she’s right. And the fact that they are at a LAW SCHOOL and are laughing at her is scary. The left just doesn’t want religious people in government. How is it that you can teach evolution but you can’t teach intelligent design or creation — because “whoever” says evolution is a science. BUT all of them cannot be proved and ALL require faith.

  30. FUAG

    @21 – I don’t know what FoxNews says about these people in general as I don’t watch most of their programing. I do watch O’Reilly, and he blasts the O’Donnell, Palin, Paul, and Beck all the time. (these being good cases in point as to why I only watch Bill O’Reilly)

    And, certainly, FoxNews is guilty of the same types of tactics the other way. They love to throw up Sharpton, Coons, and Barney Frank to try and frame all liberals as left wing nut jobs.

    My issue is more with the main stream liberals, and it doesn’t get any more main stream than the president and speaker! They are WAY further left than most Americans, and given their power, they should be receiving the focus not the odd loose nuts…

  31. Jon

    FUAG They are WAY further left than most Americans, and given their power, they should be receiving the focus not the odd loose nuts…

    Um, forgetting for a second the fact-free allegations about ideology (which amounts to calling your opponent a name, not discussing policy) …the person this post is about is running for US Senate?

    And it wasn’t too long ago that you had a loose nut as president.

  32. Junior

    Unfortunately, both parties have been hijacked by the extreme elements of either side and currently the extreme left controls the White House and dominates Congress. All that is about to change, thankfully. I believe the polarization started around 2004, the beginning of the “Bush derangement syndrome” years. The House nominated Pelosi for speaker, that’s an indication of how left the Democrats have moved since Bush. These aren’t centrist/conservative Democrats of the Clinton years. You’ll never see Obama or Pelosi calling for less government, less spending, and entitlement reform like Clinton. They want more government, more regulations, more spending, and more entitlement programs. Bush was guilty of big spending and expanding entitlements as well.

    However, these same leftist critics fail to see that Obama is only continuing the same policies as G.W. and to a greater degree (spending, war efforts, social programs). They’re one in the same, yet the left wing echo chamber continues to blame Bush as Obama continues to enforce the Patriot Act and such. It doesn’t make a bit of sense.

  33. FUAG

    Jon, the person in this post is going to loose because she is unqualified and doesn’t match the ideology of her constituents. 5 Years from now nobody will even know who she is… That’s the point I was going for. Stop focusing on the loose nuts as it elevates them to a stature they do not deserve.

    And, yup, we had our nut president and now you have yours. Our nut lost his majority, your nut will loose his. Hopefully future presidents will learn that if you run as a moderate, you better stay a moderate, or the country will moderate you by electing a house/senate to counterbalance.

  34. Rick Armstong

    Question for Jon, who reasons atheists can believe in inalienable rights:who exactly grants inalienable rights if not our Creator? If we’re simplý the product of “goo-to-you” evolution, there are no “rights” other than what we agree to give each other, but in that case, our leaders can agree to take them away. I put it to you that Coons would be more likely to agree with Obama and Gore to take away property rights for the sake of the hoax of man-made global warming – and more likely to infringe on your pursuit of happiness by requiring you to pay for health insurance, tax, regulate and penalize your small business out of business, keep the abortion trade thriving and decide which elderly patients aren’t worth the money needed to give them a few more days or weeks to live -more likely to abridge those cherished rights than O’Donnel would be.

  35. Jim

    Inalienable rights are not granted. To put it another way, inalienable rights are not granted. It’s like asking who granted oxygen permission to be combustible or silver the right to tarnish.

    The United Nations, that scary bunch of humanists, seems to agree, given their history of promoting those countries that most exemplify those rights.

    And you always have to pay for health insurance. Or are you talking about being required to purchase it? And, seriously, death panels? Are we still pretending that’s a thing?

  36. Andy Taylor

    Rick, that straw man argument you’re applying to evolution is pretty bad. My question to you is that if intelligent design implies an intelligent creator and science is testable then how do we test for an intelligent creator?

  37. Jon

    FUAG: And, yup, we had our nut president and now you have yours.

    I don’t accept that Barack Obama is a nut. If you think he is the equivalent of George W Bush, then it’s quite possible you are a nut. Obama has done exactly what he said he’d do in his campaign. And he’s inherited some real problems from the last administration, and he’s trying to solve them. You might not like how he went about doing it, but that doesn’t mean he’s George W. Bush. And yes, the elites who made George W. Bush president need to be kept in check and made accountable–so yes I’ll focus on the religious right and the people who exploit them all I want, thank you very much.

    Rick: …take away property rights for the sake of the hoax of man-made global warming…

    Wow, look at all the people involved in the “hoax”, Rick. Keep scrolling down, and stop when it says “dissenting organizations” because there aren’t any. What about my property rights, Rick? What about the pollution that affects my property, my childrens’ property? If you’re telling me don’t worry, be happy, who brainwashed all these scientists?

  38. FUAG

    Jon, it’s not my opinion, it’s the country’s opinion. The parallels between Bush and Obama are obvious to many. Primarily being high approval rating, followed by backlash due to agenda (Bush neo-con, Obama liberal), followed by major shift in house/senate.

    And if you think Tea Party and “Bush Republicans” are on the same page you are blind! The point of the Tea Party is that fiscal conservatives no longer had a party. The republican party went “neo-con” and “yellow dog” democrats (who had been voting republican for years due to it’s religious ideology and promise of fiscal conservatism) had nowhere to turn.

    The driving force behind the tea party is fiscal conservatism, make no mistake about that. The religious bit comes along with the tendency of conservatives to also be religious. Do you really think this country would support a law stating “you must teach creationism and can’t teach evolution”?

  39. Jon

    The parallels between Bush and Obama are obvious to many. Primarily being high approval rating, followed by backlash due to agenda (Bush neo-con, Obama liberal), followed by major shift in house/senate.

    Yeah right, those are real, substantial similarities in policy, historical challenges, and leadership characteristics. (NOT.)

    The parallels between Bush and Obama are obvious to conservative paranoids (eg, Glenn Beck and his audience), who, by the way, were huge Bush boosters, and bashers of his critics. Why any of these types are supposed to have credibility is beyond me…

  40. Wes

    The separation of church and state is a lie. It doesn’t matter what Thomas Jefferson said. You can’t just go making up laws and interpretations as you go along. The Constitution says clearly that any right not granted to the Federal government is reserved to the States, and the First Amendment clearly says “congress”.

    The Tea Party is a conservative movement, not affiliated with any party. I fully realize that there aren’t many conservatives in the socialist/communist Democratic party, but there are a few. Laugh all you want. Hope and change is coming.

  41. FUAG

    Jon, please, the similarity is that they both govern(ed) using an ideology far outside of main stream American views and they both got the backlash, period.

  42. Jon

    Obama was elected to fix the healthcare system. He did. He was elected to fix energy policy, as the rest of the world has been doing. He tried. His healthcare proposal was developed at the Heritage Foundation. It was Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan. If it was far left, then is the Heritage Foundation far left? Please.

    I think you guys need to distinguish between problems and their policy solutions. There’s the problem, which can look radical in itself, but you have to recognize the nature of the problem to govern competently. *Then* you can debate what’s the appropriate policy, which often involves solutions that a conservative wouldn’t like, but are still necessary.

    There was a great comment this morning by David Frum, who is a conservative I respect:

    Much of government is an exercise in choosing the least bad option. A movement that demands everything and punishes any politician who strikes a bargain that is better than the status quo but less than libertarian perfection – well, we’ll have our chance to see how much that movement achieves… TARP and the rescue of the banking system are better from a conservative point of view than a new Great Depression that would have involved a decade of massive government support of the private economy… People are responsible not only for their actions, but for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions.

    And I would add people are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their *inaction.*

  43. FUAG

    Yes, thankfully congress listened to their constituents and forced Obama to drop his push for a single payer system to a more reasonable option. Please don’t tell me that you think what passed was what Obama was trying to pass originally!

  44. Jon

    Single payer was never on the table. Public option was on the table, but all that would mean is that if bureaucracy is so bad, then the private insurers would leave it in the dust anyway.

    And God help us if our health care system ever works like Canada’s. It scares me so much–after all the Canadian flag is red! Excuse me, I am so scared I have to go breathe into a paper bag and calm down and prevent hyperventilation. Because universal healthcare is as radical as Bush taking over the middle east.

  45. Jon

    Yes it’s only an “interpretation” of the first amendment by the person who wrote that amendment, and interpreted that way and established as settled law by judges more than 200 years ago.

  46. Jon

    Also, as Sheril notes:

    Her opponent then goes on to quote the First Amendment more or less correctly, saying “the government shall make no establishment of religion”, to which O’Donnell asks, “That’s in the First Amendment?”. If she was trying to be clever, she failed.

    The first statement might have worked as a dog whistle (if you want to be pedantic, “separation of church and state” isn’t a literal quote from the constitution). But the second statement deals with the exact wording. When she questions the existence of that in the constitution, she screws up, especially for a tea party candidate.

  47. Andy

    “I understand we’re all supposed to worship Calvin Coolidge now.”

    I’d much rather have Coolidge for President than Obama, or any Liberal/Progressive/Socialist for that matter. Don’t forget Maxine Waters stating “this Liberal is going to socialize..(wince in embarrassment)…(stutter)…basically take control of everything…” Yeah, we knew what she meant, sounds Socialist to me.

  48. Jon

    Like these people in Brad Delong’s blog post, Andy, it sounds like you think if the government even builds more toll booths it’s socialist:

    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2010/10/somehow-i-am-now-wishing-i-had-read-more-nietszche-when-i-was-younger.html

    By this definition, even Milton Friedman was a socialist. And the administration is in the process of selling back everything it was forced to buy. Doesn’t sound like Socialism to me.

  49. Jon

    Ladies and gentlemen, the great Glenn Beck:

    http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/10/glenn-beck-evolution-is-ridiculous—-i-havent-seen-a-half-monkey-half-person-yet.php?ref=fpblg

    Denies we came from monkeys. “It’s like with global warming.” …

  50. Half monkey, half person

    @48,

    “the government shall make no establishment of religion”

    Government or Congress?

    There’s a difference. At the time of ratification of the first amendment, a number of the states had established churches, and they didn’t disestablish until many years later. Government generally was not forbidden from religion by the first amendment, it was forbidden by the fourteenth incorporating the first into individual rights. Nor is establishment of a religion the same as support for an individual religious belief.

    It depends how literal you want to get. I expect it was an error and O’Donnell remembered incorrectly which amendment it was in, just as with Coons’ misquoting of the precise words, but like many things legal, subtleties of language and history matter, and had a constitutional scholar reacted that way, I might be inclined to offer the benefit of the doubt and assume it was quote-pedantry.

  51. JJ

    The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. The government cannot condone or force anyone into any particular religion, however that doesn’t mean that government workers cannot display or profess their own religious views, that’s a violation of the first amendment. Our Congress says a daily prayer, God is mentioned on our money (since 1865) and in the pledge since the 50s. These mentions of God are permitted because they’ve been found not to establish a religion, only to profess our country’s Christian roots in history. There’s nothing the government has done in these cases to establish a national religion or force one into believing a particular religion.

    There’s nothing in the Constitution that explicitly states the “separation of church and state”. O’Donnell made a mess of her criticism, but it’s not hard to understand where she’s coming from on the issue. I believe she confused the 1st with the 14th amendments as well, which is terrible coming from a political candidate.

    I’ll also note that I’m a non-religious libertarian that respects people’s right to profess their faith, unlike the new-atheist movement that wants to tell people what to believe in an attempt to completely eradicate religion. I’m no fan of organized religion, but it’s explicitly stated in the first amendment and requires respect on part of believers and non-believers. For example, not allowing a local office or worker to display a Christmas tree or Menorah goes beyond the separation of church and state.

  52. Brian D

    There’s nothing in the Constitution that explicitly states the “separation of church and state”.

    And likewise, nothing in the Constitution explicitly says “separation of powers”, “limited government”, or “checks and balances”. And yet, those – like separation of church and state – are taken to be authoritative interpretations thereof, both by their authors (see the assorted letters by Jefferson and Madison mentioned above) and by the Supreme Court in ruling after ruling.

    I would challenge you to find any candidate who would be taken seriously after saying “the phrase ‘limited government’ does not appear in the constitution”, let alone campaigning for a reintroduction of unlimited government. How you see that hypothetical candidate is exactly how we see O’Donnell in this context.

    Also, the assertion that the first amendment “doesn’t mean that government workers cannot display or profess their own religious views” is unnecessary. Please find any defender of the first amendment who has claimed that personal religious expression isn’t allowed. In the absence of such claims, you’re defending your view from a straw man of your own construction.

    I’ll also note that I’m a non-religious libertarian that respects people’s right to profess their faith, unlike the new-atheist movement that wants to tell people what to believe in an attempt to completely eradicate religion.

    Apparently you don’t understand what you malign. New atheism isn’t an attempt to tell people what to believe. All it does is reject the notion that religious claims are special and must somehow be free from criticism, scrutiny, or mockery. (In that regard, it’s actually more in line with the freedom-of-expression aspect of the first amendment…)

    Indeed, I would challenge you to find one prominent “new atheist” who makes statements about what people should believe. Mockery about what people do believe, and statements about an ideal world, are not the same as telling a person what to believe.

    Our gracious host, arguably the standard-bearer for the non-new-atheist “accomodationist” side, understands this. The argument against new atheism is more a matter of approach, not a matter of direction.

    I don’t care what you believe – but you should be prepared to explain why you believe it and defend that explanation (ideally with reason and evidence, but that may be too much to expect from most Americans). I suspect you agree with that statement for economic arguments and political claims. Why not religious ones too?

  53. JJ

    “And likewise, nothing in the Constitution explicitly says “separation of powers”, “limited government”, or “checks and balances”

    They’re explicitly written as to the structure of government in the Constitution with specific guidelines for each branch, as well as rules for elected officials. If it wasn’t explicitly written, we would have no clear guidelines as to how to structure government. If that were the case, people would be filing suits against the formal structure of government, which they do not, because it’s non-contestable as it is explicitly drawn out in the Constitution. For example, all powers not delegated to the Federal government are reserved to the states (limited federal power). Explicit designation of 3 branches of government (checks and balances/separation of powers).

    New Atheists:

    “Intolerance of ignorance, myth and superstition; DISREGARD FOR THE TOLERANCE OF RELIGION. Indoctrination of logic, reason and the advancement of a naturalistic worldview.”

    http://newatheism.org/

    I’m not sure how else to interpret “disregard for the tolerance of religion”. If one explicitly states they have an intolerance for religion, I believe that means they will not tolerate one’s right to live their life under a religious doctrine of some form. Therefore, New Atheists are very much (and self described) intolerant of one’s religious beliefs. Nothing wrong with provoking thought on the subject, but self described intolerance is not the same as skepticism.

    Definition of intolerance:

    “unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in opinions or beliefs”

    “an attitude of not accepting or respecting different opinions, practices, or people.”

    “Unable or indisposed to tolerate, endure or bear; Not tolerant; close-minded about new or different ideas…”

    As for the 1st Amendment:

    “The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference of one religion over another. The first approach is called the “separation” or “no aid” interpretation, while the second approach is called the “non-preferential” or “accommodation” interpretation. The accommodation interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government’s entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Establishment_Clause_of_the_First_Amendment

    As I said.

    “Also, the assertion that the first amendment “doesn’t mean that government workers cannot display or profess their own religious views” is unnecessary. Please find any defender of the first amendment who has claimed that personal religious expression isn’t allowed. In the absence of such claims, you’re defending your view from a straw man of your own construction.”

    From personal experience, my high school secretary was forced to take down a Menorah in her office because a parent complained about it after seeing it in her office. and this…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_of_Allegheny_v._ACLU

  54. JJ

    In the case of Allegheny, I do not see how a local office can be guilty of “advancing religion” from a simple display (celebrating the religious beliefs of local employees and Christian/Jewish residents), which incorporated both Christmas and Hanukkah displays. The display of the Nativity was ruled unconstitutional, while the Christmas tree and Menorah were considered “secular”. There are no government officials handing out pamphlets or preaching Gospel. There are no policies of that county based on Christianity or Judaism. There’s no federal funding behind some political program working to advance Christian beliefs. There’s also no religious favoritism or discrimination since a Menorah was displayed alongside a Christmas display.

    The statue of Lemon v. Kurtzman, from which the decision was based, is also highly controversial and could be overturned in the future. The Lemon decision was also based on paying Catholic teachers with federal funds, who were explicitly preaching or teaching religion to students. There’s no preaching or teaching of religion in the case of Allegheny, just a simple display of Christian and Jewish ornaments.

  55. “New Atheists” largely agree that all Americans, and all private American organizations have the right to express any religious views or symbolism in almost any way in absolutely any point in spacetime, including anything considered the “public sphere”.

    But individuals and government-based organizations do not have the right to use the public sphere to express religious views — for example, on Federal money. That it is on the money doesn’t make it Constitutional (otherwise, the Bill of Rights would be superfluous, because one could always define established practice as being Constitutional.).

    There is no such thing as a “generic” religion or “generic” God that is acceptable for Congress to endorse. Forget atheists — it’s also a — to polytheists and other theists who don’t consider themselves as believing in “God”. Even some Christian fundamentalists feel it’s wrong for the government to touch religion in the ways it does (such as by having trial witnesses swear on Bibles), because it evokes idolatry.

  56. whoops, I never filled in a word there! “– to” should be “dismissive of”.

  57. Jon

    There’s no federal funding behind some political program working to advance Christian beliefs.

    Faith based initiatives? George Bush’s Justice Department?

  58. Chris
  59. Greg

    @55-56: Way to lay the smack down on Liberal BS JJ, well said.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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