By lex, on October 19th, 2010
I don’t frankly carry any water for Christine O’Donnell, but I do wonder whether the media treatment on her “gotcha” moment debating Chris Coons today is entirely fair:
Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.
The exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.
Well, taught alongside evolution, it might also generate a tendency towards critical thinking, but these are public schools we’re talking about – never mind:
Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him.
When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”
Her comments, in a debate aired on radio station WDEL, generated a buzz in the audience.
“You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp,” Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone said after the debate, adding that it raised questions about O’Donnell’s grasp of the Constitution.
Erin Daly, a Widener professor who specializes in constitutional law, said that 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.
Audible gasps notwithstanding, there is a discernible difference between First Amendment prohibitions against the establishment of religion – or the often neglected prohibition against regulating the free exercise thereof – and Thomas Jefferson’s explanatory “separation of church and state” 1802 discussion with the Baptist Church of Danbury. The latter derives from the former, but the words themselves are found nowhere in the Constitution: O’Donnell was at least technically right. As for certain Widener professors who specialize in constitutional law, they are not wrong so much as rather too clever by half.
As is the rest of the article by the Washington Post – an important local media outlet in Delaware – which goes on to say that about the debate:
The two candidates repeatedly talked over each other, with O’Donnell accusing Coons of caving at one point when he asked the moderator to move on to a new question after a lengthy argument.
“I guess he can’t handle it,” she said.
Wonder what the “it” was that Coons couldn’t handle? You won’t get it from the Post, for “it” matches neither their inflammatory headline “O’Donnell questions separation of church, state” nor the narrative. Let’s go to The Politico for more:
O’Donnell was later able to score some points of her own off the remark, revisiting the issue to ask Coons if he could identify the “five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.”
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.
“I guess he can’t,” O’Donnell said.
So O’Donnell gets excoriated for knowing both what is and isn’t in the First Amendment, but Coons gets a pass on not knowing most of it so long as he’s certain about the one-fifth that just ain’t there.
Whether or not there were audible gasps from the audience at that point goes unreported.
Update: This is an interesting example of the wholly unfounded intellectual narcissism of the liberal left elites – Our Sarah is giving a speech to a Tea Party group in Reno and tells them that “it’s too soon to party like it’s 1773″. Markos “Smartest Guy in the Room” Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame, tweets that she’s “She’s so smart,” apparently not realizing that 1773 was the year of the, you know: Boston Tea Party.
This is not ubiquitous among rank and file folks, but all too common among those who would pretend to speak for them: Male conservatives are either stupid or evil. The women are merely stupid.
They’d never get away with that kind of sexist thinking in their own camp, but they don’t get called out on it when it crosses ideological boundaries.