While exercising her First Amendment right to freely speak Tuesday, Christine O’Donnell, the Republican and Tea Party-backed candidate for the U. S. Senate seat of Delaware, repeatedly displayed her ignorance of the First Amendment’s clause regarding freedom of religion.
She and opponent Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate in the senatorial race, according to media outlets like the Guardian, were debating at Widener Law School over topics like evolution and Creationism (the former called a “myth” by O’Donnell, the latter a scientifically untenable position to which she adheres), and the topic of separation of church and state came up. O’Donnell immediately asked where it was written in the Constitution that there should be a separation of church and state. The responding laughter from the Widener audience was just the beginning of O’Donnell’s image problems for the day.
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” she asked.
Christine O’Donnell is a self-described Constitutional scholar with a graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute.
Although O’Donnell supporters are quick to point out she was trying to point out that the actual words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the U.S. Constitution, she didn’t help her case by constantly asking where separation of church and state appeared in the document. At one point, she asked for clarification that Chris Coons was saying it was in the Constitution and when he began to recite the First Amendment’s first line, “The government shall make no establishment of –,” she interrupted, “That’s in the First Amendment?”
The very first line of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reveals: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is followed by clauses concerning the freedom of speech and the freedom to peaceably assemble and petition the government.
The debate with Coons was soon the talk of the blogosphere. Every political pundit and blogger that had access to a keyboard was expressing an opinion — on the debate, on issues, but mostly on O’Donnell’s inability to understand the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment, which Coons aptly explained and noted had been supported and further codified by numerous legal decisions over the years.
The problem arises from devout Christians and espousers of creationism, many whose views are that the Constitution does not provide against separation of church and state, that laws protecting against the dominance or proselytizing of one religion as opposed to others infringe upon their right to worship freely. The argument is usually embodied in the abolition of prayer in public schools, which many regard as restrictive, and the teaching of evolution, which many of faith regard as just scientific bunk with little or no more validity than creation myths. And although there is nothing wrong with believing the way she does, there rises a problem when those views are forced upon others who do not necessarily agree with or even want to be exposed to them.
Christine O’Donnell is an avowed Christian and reportedly adheres to the Creationist view, a belief system that holds that the Earth was formed roughly 6,000 years ago and that man once co-existed with dinosaurs.
Her extreme religious views aside, her ignorance of the wording of the Constitution and/or its basic concepts might seem unpardonable for someone who would become a lawmaker themselves. A working knowledge of the very document used as a guideline for the generation of law — or was she simply going to become a senator, vote via unsubstantiated opinions or hearsay, and leave the rest to the Supreme Court?
The separation of church and state argument aside, O’Donnell made a comment during the debate — and has made similar remarks on the campaign trail — that school policy is something to be decidedly locally on the school and school district level. Constitutionally, and as a self-described Constitutional scholar and in-depth analyst of its words she should very well know, those decisions cannot be made on a local level that violate the tenets of the Constitution, which the teaching of creationism does by its very reliance on a belief mechanism.
To make matters even worse, O’Donnell also could not address Amendments 14 (citizenship rights) and 15 (voting rights), major talking points among Tea Party and Republican candidates in this year’s midterm election campaigns, although she seemed to have knowledge of the 17th (the election of senators). She jokingly said that she didn’t have a copy of the Constitution with her.
And that could also explain her not taking the Fifth Amendment (the right to non-self-incrimination)…
But it all comes down to this: Regardless of her claims of fellowships and scholarships concerning her supposed expertise in the U. S. Constitution, should an individual so seemingly ignorant of the Constitution be elected to an office that operates to amend and adjust said document?