Christine O’Donnell on Church and State: Gaffe or Political Position?

By now you’ve probably seen the above video of Christine O’Donnell’s disbelief that the First Amendment establishes the separation of church and state. If not, start the video around the 5 minute mark and see for yourself.

O’Donnell’s campaign and the right are trying to spin this by saying O’Donnell was only expressing disbelief that the words “seperation of church and state” appear in the constitution (which they don’t). It’s clear, however, that that’s not what Coons is saying. Coons quotes the amendment and says that decades of procedural law establish the separation.

So it sure sounds like a gaffe. But a belief that the Constitution doesn’t separate church and state is a widespread belief in certain parts factions of the right.

Ron Paul wrote:

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.

It’s a strange statement, since the Constitution is anything but replete with references to God.

Number of references to “God” in the Constitution: 0
Number of references to “Jesus”: 0
Number of references to “Christ”: 0
Number of references to “Lord”: 1 – in reference to the “year of our lord”
Number of references to “Providence”: 1 – In reference to how many representatives the Providence Plantations get.
Number of references to “Religion”: 1 – in the first amendment when stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

The Declaration of Independence does make one reference each to God and one to Divine Providence. But what of it? The Constitution is the law of the land, not the Declaration.

The idea that someone could be elected senator and not know what the First Amendment says is scary. But here’s another scary idea: the Tea Party knows what it says but still does not believe in the separation of church and state. That’s clearly the case with Ron Paul, though he seems to have little influence over the Tea Party movement anymore. However, according to the NAACP’s Tea Party Nationalism paper released today, there are a number of leaders within the movement who also believe that. And it all ties back, rather uncomfortably, to the Christian Identity movement.

So what do we have here – simple ignorance, or a theocratic agenda?

PS – Wes Unruh is doing a good job of following this stuff on Twitter.


  1. A few things:

    1.) O’Donnell is a fool.

    2.) The Declaration of Independence establishes the inalienable rights of man as given by God. This establishes the US as adhering to a rights-based ethic (Jefferson was influenced by Locke here). The Constitution and the Bill of Rights follow directly from these rights. Within the context of the establishment of the US government, God (the creator) was the originator of these rights.

    3.) The separation of church and state was meant to safeguard the freedom of religion. To this, I can see Ron Paul’s point of view. Within the last decade, this “separation” has been used to forcefully attack religion, despite the fact that our government was indeed influenced by the faith of our founding fathers. Things such as removing the Ten Commandments from a court house building seem to be a little drastic. Six of the ten commandments are reasonable to live by even if you’re an atheist. The others are reasonable if you believe in any God. Outside of their religious context, the Ten Commandments were highly influential in the building of the US ethic and law. They are rather historical in that regard.

    4.) O’Donnell is a fool.

    5.) I believe that intelligent design is a theory worthy of examining. It’s a solid alternative to Darwinism (notice I didn’t say evolution). Both could conceivably be taught when talking about the history of science or philosophy of science (the “designer” in question – whether God, DNA, aliens or our own consciousness – need not be discussed). Biblical creationism (and other creation stories), however, belongs in a humanities class.

    6.) Seriously? Christine O’Donnell? WTF, Delware?

  2. >So what do we have here – simple ignorance, or a theocratic agenda?

    Why so binary? There’s plenty of room for it to be both ignorance AND theocratic agenda.

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