There was a huge stink in the media today.
Apparently, during a U.S. Senate candidates debate in Delaware, GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell asked her Democrat opponent Chris Coons, “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?”
The crowd, full of law students, erupted into laughter and the media has lambasted her all day today. The funny thing is, the United States Constitution does not mention the separation of church and state, the U.S. Constitution does not define the separation of church and state, and the U.S. Constitution does not in any way imply the separation of church and state.
Coons replied that the First Amendment establishes the separation of church and state, but that was an incorrect answer. As I said in the previous paragraph, the separation of church and state is not defined, mentioned, or implied, within the United States Constitution.
The First Amendment states,
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.
The First Amendment clearly prohibits Congress from making any laws respecting the establishment of religion, but it does not in any way construe what many believe to be the separation of church and state.
In fact, the term “separation of church and state” is merely an offshoot of the original phrase written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists Association which was concerned about the U.S. Constitution not reaching all the way down to the state level.
The original statement reads, “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.”
He was clearly re-assuring the Baptists of Danbury that their religious freedoms would be protected by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment places a restriction on the state to prevent its interference in religious practice, it does not remove all religion from government.
If the founding fathers truly meant to imply a true separation, Jefferson’s comment (which was made in 1802) would not have been completely ignored by the courts in the United States for nearly 150 years, when in 1947 then Justice Hugo Black ruled in the Everson v. Board Of Education case.
Many legal armchair analysts cite the Everson case when they argue in support of the separation of church and state, but the decision in the Everson case actually upheld the use of taxpayer money to transport children to Catholic and other parochial schools, therefore negating the entire “separation of church and state” argument as it is used in today’s society and portrayed in today’s media.
Many people believe, and maybe rightly so, that Christine O’Donnell is not qualified to serve as Senator from the state of Delaware, but the fact is, she was right.
At this point I think it would be more beneficial to everyone to have one Senator who was knowledgeable about the U.S. Constitution with little experience, than any “soon-to-be” lawyer who was sitting in that room and laughed when she asked that simple question.