UPDATE 10/21/10 (video): ABC News reports what other media has not on First Amendment debate (begins at time mark 2:10)
-- From "Coons, O’Donnell Debate the Constitution" by Jess Bravin, Wall Street Journal 10/19/10
Ms. O’Donnell attacked her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, for insisting that public schools teach evolution but not “intelligent design,” which posits that life forms are too complex to have evolved through natural processes and must have been created by a conscious being such as God. Mr. Coons, the New Castle County executive, said that public schools could not teach intelligent design or similar theories, like creationism and creation science, because they were “religious doctrine” rather than science.
“That is a blatant violation of our Constitution,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “The Supreme Court has always said it is up to the local communities to decide their standards.”
When Mr. Coons interjected that “one of those indispensible principles is the separation of church and state,” Ms. O’Donnell demanded, “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?”
The audience exploded in laughter.
The moderator moved on, but Ms. O’Donnell later returned to this question, demanding of Mr. Coons, “So you’re telling me the phrase, ‘the separation of church and state,’ is found in the Constitution.”
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Mr. Coons claimed the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as his source. It reads:
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.From "The Separation of Church and State" by David Barton, WallBuilders, January 2001
In 1947, in the case Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared, "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." The "separation of church and state" phrase which they invoked, and which has today become so familiar, was taken from an exchange of letters between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, shortly after Jefferson became President.
[After the] election of Jefferson . . . a President who not only had championed the rights of Baptists in Virginia but who also had advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers, the Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson a letter of praise on October 7, 1801, telling . . . Jefferson their grave concern over the entire concept of the First Amendment, including of its guarantee for "the free exercise of religion" . . .
Jefferson understood their concern; it was also his own. In fact, he made numerous declarations about the constitutional inability of the federal government to regulate, restrict, or interfere with religious expression.
. . . in his short and polite reply to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802, [Jefferson] assured them that they need not fear; that the free exercise of religion would never be interfered with by the federal government. As he explained:
Gentlemen, – The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction. . . . Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem.In summary, the "separation" phrase so frequently invoked today was rarely mentioned by any of the Founders; and even Jefferson's explanation of his phrase is diametrically opposed to the manner in which courts apply it today. "Separation of church and state" currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.
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