O'Donnell, Coons Squabble Over Who Knows More About First Amendment

"Where in the constitution is the separation of church and state?" O'Donnell asks.

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The latest debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons produced another startling O'Donnell news meme. In a conversation about creationism in schools, Coons alluded to the "indispensable principle" of the separation of church and state. After a pause, O'Donnell coyly asks, "Where in the constitution is the separation of church and state?" prompting an audible response (see 2:49 in the video below) from the law school audience.

Later in the debate (3:30) O'Donnell is asked about several other amendments and remarks, "I'm sorry I didn't bring my constitution with me...can you remind me [about the content of several of the amendments]?" The soundbites, not surprisingly, provoked concern in the media. But some pundits also noted that Coons a demonstrated similar, if less visible, lack of recall about the the First amendment.

  • O'Donnell Has No Idea What's In the Constitution argues The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen. "These 'constitutional conservatives' don't seem to have any idea what's in the Constitution they claim to revere....For the record, the first 16 words of the First Amendment read, "'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Thomas Jefferson said the Founding Fathers adopted this language, 'thus building a wall of separation between church and state.'"

  • She Knows More About the Constitution Than Coons proclaims John R. Guardiano at The American Spectator. "While O'Donnell may not have been as articulate as she should have been, she's nonetheless right: The phrase 'separation of church and state' appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was penned, instead, by President Thomas Jefferson in a letter that Jefferson sent to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut....So while the elites cluck in disapproval at what they believe is O'Donnell's faux pas, the reality is she knows and understands the Constitution better than they do."
  • Here's What Coons Did  Politico's Andy Barr notes "Coons named the separation of church and state, but could not identify the others — the freedoms of speech, press, to assemble and petition — and asked that O’Donnell allow the moderators ask the questions."
  • Coons Doesn't Know Much Either  Michelle Malkin runs with the fact that Chris Coons couldn't name any of the other freedoms specified in the first amendment during the debate. "But all you’ll hear from the MSM today is that Christine O’Donnell — correctly — questioned Coons’ claim that the phrase 'the separation of church and state' appears in the First Amendment. Coons’ ignorance doesn’t fit the O’Donnell bashers’ narrative. So they’ll pretend this didn’t happen."
  • A Constitutional Law Professor Clarifies O'Donnell's Remarks  Ben Evans at The Washington Post relays this from Widener constitutional law professor Erin Daly: "While there are questions about what counts as government promotion of religion, there is little debate over whether the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from making laws establishing religion." Daly observed that "It's one thing to not know the 17th Amendment or some of the others, but most Americans do know the basics of the First Amendment."
  • Here's What O'Donnell's Defenders Will Say  Elie Mystal at Above the Law documents defenses O'Donnell will use: 1) The Constitution doesn't technically use the words "separation of church and state." 2) Separation of church and state is a "judge made law." But both of these defenses don't account for the fact that O'Donnell isn't knowledgeable about the Constitution: "We’re talking about minimal standards here, people — minimal standards to be one of 100 people with the awesome responsibility of serving in the United States Senate. This Christine O’Donnell woman doesn’t have it; why is that so hard for some people to admit?"
  • Chris Coons May Have Blown the Election  Writing with evident sarcasm, Alex Balk at The Awl nevertheless suggests some good political spin: "Chris Coons, you are blowing this thing! What kind of an egghead knows the First Amendment by heart? Who wants to have a beer with that guy?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.