Oh dear

Republican/ Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell seems a bit lacking in the constitutional law department.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine.

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked him, according to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate.

The audience at the law school can be heard to break out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward.

“Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

When Mr. Coons offers a shorthand of the relevant section, saying, “government shall make no establishment of religion,” Ms. O’Donnell replies, “That’s in the First Amendment?”

I’m all for throwing out the scoundrels, but I’m not in favor of replacing them with complete idiots. Although, could they do worse?


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25 responses to “Oh dear

  1. not so anonymous

    just because I may also be a dunce….hasn’t the “non establishment” clause in the Constitution regarding religion, (which in light of the times was meant as to ward off the God Awful bloody Roman/ Anglican power struggles over the English State…) been hijacked by the likes of the ACLU and atheists,and socialists to mean freedom FROM religion in all things government, which was certainly not intended by the Constitution….they opened congress with prayer and provided bibles to the schools for heaven’s sake.

  2. FlyAngler

    Chris – No, she is not the sharpest of instruments. However, do I need to remind you that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a purported “constitutional law scholar” – how’s that working for us in the leadership department?

  3. pulled up in OG

    On the other hand, she is a wizard on hairy palms.

  4. Inagua

    “…could they do worse?”

    Maybe. It would be a close call, but
    there is a sitting US Senator who said of bin Laden shortly after 9/11, “He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He’s made their lives better.”

    One could argue that ignorance of the first amendment is slightly less egregious than fabricating nonsense.

  5. xyzzy

    I listen to the quote and I think it depends on your bias towards Ms. O’Donnell.

    She says “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” And her opponent says “That is a good point.”

    If you think she is knowledgeable, she is making a point about the extension of the First Amendment (and other Amendments) beyond their original intent.

    If you think she is ignorant, then she doesn’t have a clue whats in the First Amendment.

    Either way it doesn’t matter much all the laws are written by lobbyists.


  6. boredatwork

    “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.”

    Short, concise, and to the point. If they were drafting the Constitution now, how long do you think it’d be, what with all the caveats, provisos, and footnotes to keep everyone happy and make it all crystal clear? Eleventy billion pages?

  7. Cobra

    Could be a lot worse. Maxine!!

  8. Inagua


    Here is an eight minute video of the entire exchange. My bias is entirely for Christine O’Donnell (and I would vote for her if I could), but there is denying the fact that she is woefully ignorant of constitutional basics. Her knowledge base is way below that of an average college student of my generation. She is nothing more than thick skinned self-promoter mouthing a bunch of trite talking points that I doubt she even understands.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miwSljJAzqg&feature=player_embedded understand.

  9. dogwalker

    One of the sites I frequent has a bunch of fundies posting regularly. This assertion that the separation of church and state is not explicitly written in the Constitution seems to be the new thing in the fundy blogoworld. The argument is that the First Amendment was meant only to ensure that one Christian denomination would not unduly influence another Christian denomination. Everyone was Christian [sic], so, of course, it was not meant for anyone else. And it certainly was not meant to protect the government from churches, thus the 10 commandments should be allowed in court houses (well, even better, they should be the law of the land . . .), and prayer should be allowed in school . . . etc., etc.

  10. Daniel

    I alway say it should be separation of church and state, but not supression of church by the state.

  11. atticus

    When I was in law school the pissants would have laughed if someone asserted that the Second secured an individual right to bear arms.

    When I was in business school in the early 1980’s I was laughed at when I asserted that GM would go bankrupt if wages continued to outstrip productivity gains and product continued to be decontented.

    Michael Crichton was derided when he stated in many speeches that global warming was not due to human activity.

  12. Retired IB'er

    She’s a dolt and an embarrassment … full stop. Christ, even the Republican Party has distanced themselves from her.

    Delaware must truly be an intellectual wasteland if O’Donnell is the best they could come up with…

    It’s idiots like this that have moved me from the Republican Party to an Independent.

  13. West

    For all you liberal ‘fundies’ out there, perhaps you could quote the constitutional passage that has the words ‘Separation of church and state” in it.

    As for historical ignorance, maybe you could discuss: disestablishmentarianism at length without googling it.

  14. LLS 2


    so teaching evolution and science is liberal now ??

    she should go back to being a waitress.

  15. Greenwich Gal

    CF – Ms. O’Donnell isn’t so bad looking, maybe even mildly hot? I mean you’d obviously take on a 52 yr old, crazy as a bed bug, Sharon Stone – How do you feel about STUPID?

  16. LLS 2

    dear GOP:

    you guys have to get rid of the religious wack jobs. you lose so many smart and talented people because they don’t want to be associated w/ people that are clearly not well.

  17. Inagua


    Thank you for your analysis about why the Republicans are losing so many people. Recent polls suggest that Republicans are on balance increasing the number of their supporters. Do you have idea why this is so?

  18. atticus

    ANN ALTHOUSE ON Coons, O’Donnell, and the Separation of Church and State:

    Suffice it to say that it was not stupid for O’Donnell to say “That’s in the First Amendment?” — because it’s not. Coons was presenting a version of what’s in the cases interpreting the text, not the text itself.

    The 2 were talking past each other, trying to look good and make the other look bad. It is a disagreement about law between 2 individuals who are not running for judge. It’s not detailed legal analysis. It’s a political debate and this is a political disagreement. An important one, no doubt. But it can’t be resolved by laughing at one person and calling her an idiot, something I find quite repellent.

    Bah. O’Donnell is so stupid, she probably thinks the Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. Dumb wingnut.

    Plus, from the comments:

    I don’t think they were talking past each other so much as O’Donnell was trying to get Coons to speak precisely whereas Coons wanted to speak in more general colloquial terms.

    The real problem is the ignorance of the reporters and the people in the audience who couldn’t understand the point O’Donnell was trying to make and so just assumed she was being stupid. The irony being that she was right (and, on this point at least, smarter than them).

  19. Chris,

    Just between us recovering lawyers, we know that the First Amendment was directed, in part, at the establishment of religion. In other words, there can be no “Church of the United States.” I think this is elementary.

    This is easily demonstrable by the fact that there were established (and tax-supported) State churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts until 1818 and 1830, respectively, if memory serves.

    So, this has nothing to do with “fundies” but with a perfectly valid, in my opinion, concern over the metastasis of Constitutional jurisprudence – the Consitutionalization of everything and the warping of common sense it promotes.

    The Tea Party / GOP candidate may not be the most articulate or erudite spokeswoman for this point of view, but of course she is absolutely correct to say that “separation of church and state” as it is nowadays understood is not a part of the American system in its original design.

  20. Inagua

    Atticus and Fred,

    Althouse has done a great job of defending O’Donnell. Here is the key part of the exchange:

    O’Donnell: Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?

    Coons: Government shall make no establishment of religion.

    O’Donnell: That’s in the First Amendment.

    Althouse would have us believe that O’Donnell is making the subtle constitutional point that the wording of the Constitution — “no law respecting an establishment of religion” — has been incorrectly abbreviated to “separation of church and state.”

    But look at the video. It is obvious from O’Donnell’s voice inflection, facial expression, and body language that she is simply confused and does not understand that since Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state” in 1802 it has been the generally accepted shorthand for that section of the First Amendment. One can argue about that aceptance, but that was not what O’Donnell did.

  21. dogwalker

    When I brought up fundamentalist Christians, it was not to say that they were involved. It was just to offer what I thought might be the source of O’Donnell’s “thinking”. And when you see how flimsy a grasp she has on the concepts, as pointed out by Inagua, it seems even more likely to me that she picked this up from some conservative source without understanding it in any depth.

    In the past several weeks, I have seen the assertion put forth that the words “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution. Quite true. But fundamentalist Christians (in the cases I have seen) are insinuating that the this means that the idea of separation of church and state is not there and was not intended.

  22. LLS#2

    They are increasing their number of supporters b/c largely the american public consists of moronic people.

    religious fundamentalists just further make my point.

    And btw, the party that has the president always loses seats at mid-term elections.

  23. Inagua

    I don’t know if you are correct that there are more or less moronic people in America this election year, but I do know that your statement that “the party that has the president always loses seats at mid-term elections” is inaccurate

    In 1934 the president’s party picked up a combined 18 House and Senate seats. And in 1962 it was a combined pickup of two seats.

  24. w b h

    Here’s a post from Patterico who points out the evolving story in the Washington Post as the writers realize their early take was not quite right. Apparently the corrections are not acknowledged which is contrary to their policy.

    It’s a major re-write of the story — Patterico says 76% of the words were changed, and he has done a fine job of showing that.