Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE) is sure about a lot of things: condoms spread AIDS, evolution is “merely a theory,” and, of course, she is not a witch. However, when it comes to American legal history, O’Donnell is a little hazy. Yesterday, in a debate with Democratic opponent Chris Coons at Widener University Law School in Delaware, O’Donnell accused Coons of “constitutional ignorance,” saying “perhaps they didn’t teach you Constitutional law at Yale Divinity School.” But when Coons defended his position against teaching creationism by citing the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment of religion, O’Donnell inquired, “that’s in the First Amendment?“:
Coons said that creationism, which he considers “a religious doctrine,” should not be taught in public schools due to the Constitution’s First Amendment. He argued that it explicitly enumerates the separation of church and state.
“The First Amendment does?” O’Donnell asked. “Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” Coons responded, reciting from memory the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“That’s in the First Amendment…?” O’Donnell responded.
Later in the debate, O’Donnell stumbled when asked whether or not she would repeal the 14th, 16th, or 17th Amendments if elected. She asked the questioner to define the 14th and 16th amendments, adding: “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my Constitution with me.”
“You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp,” said Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone, adding that her responses “raised questions about O’Donnell’s grasp of the Constitution.” Indeed, as Coons points out, the First Amendment explicitly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But, as Keith Olbermann discovered, O’Donnell offered her own creative interpretation of the Constitution’s intent at a candidate’s forum last month: “I also want to clarify that it is not separation of church and state but separate from church and state.” Watch it:
But O’Donnell is not alone, nor an outlier, in her party’s understanding of the Constitution. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser notes, while Republicans love to wrap their actions in the Constitution, much of their agenda “is nothing less than a direct assault on America’s founding document.”
For more on O’Donnell’s record, check out our ThinkProgress report: The Old Adventures of New Christine.
Here’s the video of the exchange in which O’Donnell lays out her view on the constitutionality of several Amendments, from the 1st to the 17th. While it is important to note that the Constitution does not specifically include the phrase “separation of church and state,” O’Donnell questions Coons on whether the phrase “Congress shall make no establishment of religion” is in the First Amendment. (HT: Political Wire)
,O’Donnell’s campaign manager Matt Moran issued a statement today regarding her misunderstanding of the First Amendment. O’Donnell “was not questioning” separation “as subsequently established by the courts,” Moran said, but was pointing out that “the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution.” “It was in fact Chris Coons who demonstrated his Constitutional ignorance when he could not name the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment,” he added.