As Jeffrey Lord and I have observed, Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is absolutely right: The phrase “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the Constitution.
Moreover, even as a statement of constitutional principle, the “separation of church and state” is of dubious value, given our nation’s history and heritage, which have always been explicitly and avowedly Judeo-Christian. Yet the political and pundit class, aided and abetted by the media, have been having a field day smugly patronizing O’Donnell.
In fairness, though, it must be acknowledged that O’Donnell did fumble one question. That occurred when, during last night’s debate, she asked her Democrat opponent, Chris Coons, where in the Constitution does it decree a “separation of church and state?”
Coons responded by citing the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prohibits Congress from establishing a state religion. O’Donnell then responded, “That’s in the First Amendment?”
Yes it is, as is the clause guaranteeing the “free exercise” of religion.
OK, so O’Donnell got one wrong. But in fairness to her, she clearly was focused on the “separation of church and state”; and Coons completely missed that question.
It’s one thing, after all, to say that Congress shall not “establish” a state religion, or prefer one religious sect over another. But it’s an entirely different thing to say that there must be a “wall of separation between church and state.”
The American founding fathers wanted to prevent the “establishment” of a state religion. However, they did not wish to erect a solid and impenetrable wall between church and state or church and the public square.
Why, even Thomas Jefferson, who penned the phrase, “wall of separation…” “endorsed the use of federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians,” the Heritage Foundation reports.
So O’Donnell made a slight error because she was focused on an issue Coons had dodged and gotten wrong. Nonetheless, she got the underlying principle of religious freedom right; and that’s what really matters.
What, after all, is the benefit of having the Constitution memorized if you don’t understand its underlying principles?
Wouldn’t we rather have a candidate like O’Donnell, who understands the Constitution’s underlying principles, even if she confuses its actual text? Or is it better to have a candidate like Coons who has memorized the Constitution, but completely misconstrues its actual meaning?
Ironically, it so happens that not only does Coons not understand the Constitution; he also isn’t even that familiar with its basic text!
Lord notes, for instance, that “Coons was unable to name the five freedoms mentioned in the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, the right of peaceful assembly, and to petition the government.”
So once again, and not surprisingly, the legacy media has gotten the story completely wrong and backwards: It’s not O’Donnell who should be embarrassed about her lack of constitutional understanding, but rather Chris Coons; the smug, secular law students at Widener Law School; and the legacy media.