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Contentions

What Is in the First Amendment?

Sarah Palin has assured us that Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell is a “constitutional conservative.” In that case, O’Donnell might set aside some time to re-read the Constitution.

In her debate this morning with her opponent Chris Coons, O’Donnell was unsure whether the Constitution prevents the establishment of religion. According to press reports,

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.

How the non-establishment clause applies to particular issues is a subject of debate — but the fact that the First Amendment bars Congress from making any laws respecting the establishment of religion is not (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)

Asking candidates for the United States Senate to be familiar with one of the magnificent achievements of the American founding doesn’t strike me as an overly burdensome requirement.



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