I was going to post on the O’Donnell separation of church and state thing…

October 20th, 2010

…but legal professor Ann Althouse already wrote what I wanted to say:

The reporters aren’t presenting the quotes in a reliable fashion. And we need to begin with stark clarity that the text of the Establishment Clause is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

So let’s look at the reporting:

“Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked while Democrat Chris Coons, generic viagra sovaldi sale an attorney, recipe sat a few feet away.

Plainly, healing the Constitution does not say “separation of church and state,” so there’s nothing stupid there. It’s provocative, because many people like that gloss on the text.

Coons responded that O’Donnell’s question “reveals her fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is. … The First Amendment establishes a separation.”

He’s talking about interpretations of the text, and she was talking about the text. What we’re hearing is 2 individuals talking past each other.

She interrupted to say, “The First Amendment does? … So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase ‘separation of church and state,’ is in the First Amendment?”

She’s telling him to pay attention to her limited point about the text.

He noted again the First Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion.

Ah, here’s where I hate reporters. Give me the quote. I don’t think Coons quite gets it. Ah. Here. He says: “Government shall make no establishment of religion.”

O’Donnell reacts: “That’s in the First Amendment?” And, in fact, it’s not. The First Amendment doesn’t say “government.” It says “Congress.” And since the discussion is about what local school boards can do, the difference is highly significant.

Also, it isn’t “shall make no establishment of religion.” It’s “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” There’s a lot one could say about the difference between those 2 phrases, and I won’t belabor it here. 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.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nick  |  October 20th, 2010 at 9:56 am

    O’Donnell reacts: “That’s in the First Amendment?” And, in fact, it’s not. The First Amendment doesn’t say “government.” It says “Congress.” And since the discussion is about what local school boards can do, the difference is highly significant.”

    That seems to be a VERY, VERY strange argument for Conservatives to make… and in fact… a dangerous… and perhaps stupid argument for Conservatives to make.

    If you’re going to say that, then the 1st Amendment protection for Free Speech and the Press doesn’t apply to states or municipalities.

    Can cities ban guns? Why not, if a school board can establish a religion to be taught in a school?

    It is a stupid and dangerous game for Conservatives to choose which Rights established in the Bill of Rights can and can’t be incorporated into states and cites via the 14th Amendment… because if they win that particular argument, they could quickly lose other rights they might not want to lose.

  • 2. Rustmeister  |  October 20th, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Reporters not presenting quotes in a reliable fashion? Say it isn’t so!

    I do think the establishment clause is too broadly applied, but I’m ambivalent about prayer in schools. Of course, if all schools were private, the point would be moot. =)

    Other than that, I have to agree with Nick. Don’t cherry pick the Bill of Rights.

  • 3. John Foust  |  October 20th, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I don’t think O’Donnell is well-informed about the Constitution apart from memorized talking points. Claiming her responses were correct and that she knew what she was talking about? That’s an over-reaching defense that ignores the facts and fabric of her weak education, bizarre or misleading public statements, and questionable decisions in her past.

    I have seen her future: Trivia question answer. Maybe she can become a Realtor instead.

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