During a debate last week, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE) repeatedly questioned whether the First Amendment laid out a separation between church and state. “That’s in the First Amendment…?” she asked her Democratic opponent, sending the crowd into fits of laughter.
GOP Senate candidate in Colorado Ken Buck is less equivocal about his view. At a forum for GOP Senate candidates late last year, Buck said that he “disagree[d] strongly with the concept of separation of church and state,” and that “it was not written into the Constitution,” and then went on to rip President Obama for supposedly getting rid of the White House Christmas tree:
I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution. While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that’s sanctioned by the government, it doesn’t mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion. And so that, that concerns me a great deal. So I think there are cultural differences, I think there, we are as strong as we, our culture, our culture gives us our strength, I guess is the best way to put that. And, and I am worried about the fact that we seem to be walking away from culture. And, and one thing that President Obama has done that I would certainly speak about is calling the Christmas tree, which has historically been called a Christmas tree in Washington DC, a holiday tree. It’s just flat wrong in my mind.
Needless to say, while the Constitution doesn’t contain the exact words “separation of church and state,” legal scholars and the courts agree it does prohibit the establishment or endorsement of religion, and that the involvement Buck wants is dangerous. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a concurring opinion in 1984, the government is prohibited from “making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community.” In 1801, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God,” and argued the Constitution required “building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Also, Buck’s charge about Obama and the White House Christmas tree doesn’t rise above the level of a crude viral e-mail hoax: or in the words of FactCheck.org, “hooey.”