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Christine O’Donnell mocked for asking where in the constitution does the term “separation of church and state” appear

October 20, 2010

  During a recent debate between  Christine O’Donnell and  Chris Coons, Christine O’Donnell actually drew mocking laughter from the audience when she asked Coons, “where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Her opponent and the liberal media have used this question to imply that she does not have an understanding of the fundamentals written in the constitution. But is that the truth or is it just political spin being used against her?

  Instead of laughing at Christine O’Donnell perhaps the left would have been better off picking up a copy of the constitution and reading it before dismissing O’Donnell as being ignorant of the content of the constitution, because if they had they would realize that this is a legitimate question. The term “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the constitution and that is the point that she was trying to make.

  Let us take a look at the part of the first amendment which deals with religion.

  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

  Nope, the term “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found. I have written about this several times before but in light of yet another example of the left’s ignorance of what is actually in the constitution it is worth going into one more time.

  The term “separation of church and state” actually appears in a letter that Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 in reply to a letter sent to him while he was president. The Baptists were worried that they were not going to be allowed to practice their religion so they sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson which stated their concerns. Thomas Jefferson sent a reply to the Baptist to assuage their fear in which he wrote, ” 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.”

  It wasn’t until the Reynolds v. United States case in 1878 that a judge ruled Thomas Jefferson’s words in a private conversation captured the essence of the true meaning of the first amendment, thus figuratively writing the “wall of separation between church and state” into the constitution.

  So it turns out that technically Christine O’Donnell was correct when she asked the question, albeit she probably didn’t phrase the question properly and she was not given the opportunity to expound on what she meant by the question. But Thomas Jefferson’s letter did hit on the true intent of the first amendment, if the left would use his interpretation the way that he meant it when he wrote the infamous phrase.

  Thomas Jefferson wrote that phrase while defending the rights of a religion which at the time was in the minority, he was defending their right to practice their religion. But today’s left has actually used Thomas Jefferson’s phrase to infringe upon the right of the people the “free exercise” of their religion–the exact opposite of Thomas Jefferson’s intent.

  Thomas Jefferson was writing about the fact that the government could not set up a state sponsored religion, but not writing that Baptists, or any other religion, could be denied practicing their religion–just the opposite–yet the left has twisted Thomas Jefferson’s words to somehow mean that the government does have the right to limit religious practices in certain places.

   The left goes out of its way to ensure that no religious symbols are displayed in public for fear that this would somehow be a case of the state sponsoring one religion over another, but let me ask you this: If in a school or in a public building a person is told that he or she cannot bring a bible into that building and may not pray out loud, is that not infringing on a person’s right to the free exercise of religion? Is this not the government violating the infamous “separation of church and state” that they love to quote when it fits their agenda?

  The “separation of church and state” that the left so loves to quote is often used to deny a person their right to free exercise of that religion and yet the left conveniently forgets that if there is a total “separation of church and state” the state has no right to tell a person where and when they can practice their religion.

  The left wants to have it both ways with their “separation of church and state” argument; they use it to ban religious displays and public prayer, and that is a direct contradiction to the meaning Thomas Jefferson had when he wrote those words.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:24 pm

    I’ve always viewed this debate as one of conflicting constitutional issues. You argue that complete seperation of church and state should enable me to practice my religion whenever and wherever I choose. But as a taxpayer don’t I have the right to say I don’t want your religious practives to infringe on my child’s right to an education free of religious teachings? Pro-life advocates argue that not a single dollar of taxpayer money should go toward abortions. I think that is a fair and just position. Why does that thinking not reach into the sphere of religious practice? I don’t wish to infringe on anybody’s right to practive their religion but I don’t want their religious practice to infringe on my right to keep your religion out of the public school classroom where my child is raised in a different religious background. There is an inherent conflict here that demands a public decision re what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole. That decision was made long ago and I beleive it serves us well. I must agree some elements of implementing this seperation have gone overboard and need to be reined in; but on the whole I must support the historic interpretation.

    And by the way, you really have to see the whole O’Donnell tape. In the beginning I thought exactly what you said above; but unfortunately she didn’t let it go. Coons articulated the language of the first amendment very well and then O’Donnell responded something along the lines of “really? that’s in the constitution?” It was bad my friend and there’s really no wiggle room to let her out of this one.


    • October 21, 2010 5:56 am

      I think that you slightly misinterpreted my position. When I wrote about a child bringing a bible to school I was not saying that religion should be taught in school, I think that the parents are responsible for teaching their children religion, what I meant was that if a child wanted to bring a bible to school to read that he or she should be allowed to do so.


    • October 21, 2010 5:57 am

      The audio that I heard of O’Donnell cut out right after she made the statement and the laughs erupted, I have not heard anything beyond that point. I will have to check out the rest of it.


  2. October 20, 2010 11:52 pm

    I was pleased, she was correct on that, and didn’t let him off the hook.

    So many people that argue the first, do it solely on the establishment clause, and conveniently ignore what comes immediately thereafter.

    Also. if Jefferson was so terribly concerned with this “wall of separation,” why didn’t he, or any of the other founders, do ANYTHING about it when they were in power? And, if it were such a huge part of the framer’s intent, why did it take until the mid-20th century to suddenly find this magical “wall?” Or, was it just as we have been saying for many years; that it’s the intent of changing freedom of religion, to freedom FROM religion?


    • October 21, 2010 5:59 am

      That is the point that I was trying to make; too many people don’t seem to even realize that there is a second part to the first amendment when it comes to the freedom of religion, they forget that the government isn’t supposed to infringe on the free exercize thereof.


  3. October 21, 2010 12:00 am

    The reason that we are here in this place today where we must constantly worry about where the wall between church and state exist is because of a wrong interpretation by the SCOTUS of a letter that was intended to convey the idea that the federal government cannot infringe upon the religious beliefs of anyone. Instead we have allowed the left and this interpretation to grow into this misguided belief that a church of any kind cannot be represented in a public school. I would say that because schools have actually become more intertwined with the federal government, the restrictions placed on religious activities in school are unconstitutional because of the establishment clause in the first amendment.

    I’m also surprised that this has not been challenged in the courts because the government cannot make any law “respecting an establishment of religion”, or impeded the free exercise of religion. By restricting religious activities in public schools the government is violating the rights protected in the 1st amendment. Just a thought.


    • October 21, 2010 6:03 am

      Somehow the original intent of Jefferson’s letter has been forgotten and the letter is being used in the exact opposite of what Jefferson had written. It has somehow become expanded over the years and taken on a completely new meaning. I think that is the problem with quite a few court rulings, once the door is open the courts just continue to expand the rulings.


  4. October 21, 2010 5:24 am

    The establishment clause must only apply to Christians. Many schools have made accommodations for Muslim worshippers irregardless of whoever else was attending the school.


  5. October 21, 2010 7:47 am

    Sadly, too many Americans haven’t even bothered to read the Constitution. Not just leftists are in that boat.

    In my American Government class (group of homeschoolers), we read the Constitution out loud and discuss it. That particular activity is a huge part of the course.


  6. Cristina permalink
    October 21, 2010 9:34 am

    The left wants separation between church and state when it is about the Christian religion. They don’t have anything against islam or secular humanism. This shows that they want a separation between God and state, not church and state.


    • October 21, 2010 9:43 pm

      Great point! There is only one religion that they seem to have a problem with and that is the Christian religion, they go out of their way not to infringe on the rights of other more politically correct religions.


  7. October 21, 2010 6:47 pm

    All O’Donnell is guilty of is not stating her position as plainly and as forcefully as she should have…

    I hesitate to say she was *ambushed*, but she was not all that clear in her response and she did have a bit of a *questioning tone* in her voice…

    I honestly think she *gets* it, but she sure needs to work on her delivery…


    • October 21, 2010 9:44 pm

      My thoughts exactly, she just didin’t articulate her point properly and the left is able to jump all over it.


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