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Was Christine O'Donnell's Constitutional gaffe really a gaffe?

Here's the unfiltered video... you decide:

Rush Limbaugh has decided that the answer is clearly no:

There's nothing in the Constitution about separation of which you need and state. It was Coons who couldn't figure out what's in the Constitution. It's Coons who didn't know what he was talking about. And so the panic in the State-Controlled Media, they write a story making it look like O'Donnell doesn't know what she's talking about. They had to misquote her and take her out of context in order to make this point. "Are you telling me that that's in the First Amendment?" meaning, the government cannot officially sponsor a religion. That's not what she was expressing incredulity over. She was incredulous that somebody was saying that the Constitution said, "There must be separation between church and state." Those words are not in the Constitution.


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Comments (51)

Nope, no gaffe. But we are... (Below threshold)

Nope, no gaffe. But we are "educated" to think that the First Amendment MEANS "separation of church and state" rather than what it says... that a national religion can't be established. More troubling to me was the fact that Coons was unable to tell what else is in the First Amendment.

That Coons is sure an inspi... (Below threshold)

That Coons is sure an inspirational speaker. He will never be the scholar Barry is not. But he tries very hard.

Who even came up with the p... (Below threshold)

Who even came up with the phrase "Separation of Church and State" anyway?

Wart:Thomas Jeffer... (Below threshold)
James H:


Thomas Jefferson.

Lol, am I on some rightwing... (Below threshold)

Lol, am I on some rightwing blog? Hey AJ I tought u guys love founding fathers - so guess what: thomas jefferson who helped write the constitution (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_wrote_the_US_Constitution) clearly says that means separation church and state (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state_in_the_United_States) - every constitutional schollar agree with that - you guys always talk about how much you love constitution - but you only like 2nd amendment and your presidents break the constitution all the time (since nixon) - I guess makes humans with fully functioning mouse brains...

Honestly, this is 10th grad... (Below threshold)

Honestly, this is 10th grade American Government material. Separation of church and state is exactly what provisions in the first amendment were intended to mean. The term wasn't created by some "activist" judges by any definition of the term. It comes from our founding fathers, specifically Jefferson and Madison, who were steadfast in their belief that there should be a wall of separation between church and state.

In fact, Jefferson himself wrote he was proud of 3 things in his life. The Declaration of Independence, The University of Virginia (which he helped begin), and Virginia's statute for religious freedom, later used as the foundation for the first amendment.

Read the statute, read the first amendment, and then read the court cases where conservative and liberal judges alike agree on the principle of separation of church and state.

<a href="http://www.usconst... (Below threshold)

Thomas Jefferson:

'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 & State.'
For all the historical illi... (Below threshold)
jim m:

For all the historical illiterates who have never heard of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 I post the key paragraph below. Note that Jefferson was not at the constitutional convention as he was ambassador to France at the time and wasn't even in the country. Many ignorant people think that he was at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, but they are simply ignorant of the facts on this subject.

The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & State. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] 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.

Even the most ignorant should be able to see that this letter says nothing about religion's role in government. In fact neither does the 1st amendment. The courts have turned the 1st amendment on its head by stating that religion has no role in government while the intent was to keep government out of religion.

So, unfortunately, even 10th grade educated persons apparently have learned precious little about what is actually in the constitution and what the framers meant by it.

We all know that when the f... (Below threshold)
retired military:

We all know that when the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence and the stated "Endowed by their Creator" that the Creator to which they referred to was a rock and not some supreme being. I mean that is liberal 101. Funny how they claim the 1st Admendments clearly states separation of church and state and also claim that the right to abortion is clearly in there as well.

The gaffe, to the extent th... (Below threshold)
jim m:

The gaffe, to the extent that there was one, was that she seems to be trying to refer to the fact that the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the first amendment. Unfortunately, most Americans, having been the products of public education, are unaware hat this phrase is not in the constitution. In any event she was not successful in articulating this fact.

So the left mocks her just as it did Sarah Palin for her reference to the 1773 Boston Tea Party. They do so out of their ignorance and they believe that they are correct in their interpretation of the constitution having no actually understanding of the contents.

I wonder if the brilliant constitutional scholars here (#'s 5 and 6) can tell us the other 4 rights protected by the first amendment without having to google it?

Despite Jefferson's letter,... (Below threshold)

Despite Jefferson's letter, the word separation did not appear in the Constitution because the drafters could not agree on it. "Separation" became Constitutional law by a decision in the 1940's.

To be well endowed by their... (Below threshold)

To be well endowed by their Creator isn't in there either, but don't tell Billy Jeff that.

Jefferson and the other Fou... (Below threshold)

Jefferson and the other Founders did NOT want a State sponsored or ESTABLISHED Church.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

But they did also did NOT want religion and the symbols of faith scrubbed from our society. They would be APPALLED at how the Left has perverted Jefferson's simple words in a SIMPLE LETTER into a pogrom against Christian and Jews alike.

The problem for Rush's argu... (Below threshold)

The problem for Rush's argument is that even after Coons read the ACTUAL WORDS of the first amendment, O'Donnell said "That's in the first amendment?" So, I don't think it's an interpretation issue here. To me she came across as not realizing that the Constitution even addressed the issue.

This has become so utterly ... (Below threshold)

This has become so utterly pointless. I cannot for one second believe the founding fathers would be so ignorant like the right is today, when in the face of overwhelming evidence, choose to ignore it all, and continue to insist on teaching craziness about creationism. Not only that, but if they didn't want a state religion, why would they want creationism taught I'm schools?

Gee Ryandward, I suppose th... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Gee Ryandward, I suppose the reason they never thought about how religion would be taught in the public school system is because it didn't exist. Not until the middle of the 19th century did public schools really start to be built.

And given the state of science in the 18th century you can pretty much guarantee hat they taught the creationist model of the universe so you look like a complete ass suggesting that they taught an evolutionary/big bang model centuries before these were even thought of.

In fact the overwhelming evidence is that the writers of the constitution desired to keep government out of religion and there is nothing to suggest that they saw the opposite as necessary or even desirable. Quite to the contrary you can find quotes from the founders on the necessity of religion and faith in establishing the character of people who can properly govern a nation.

What's clear is that O'Donn... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

What's clear is that O'Donnell knows more about the constitution than everyone else in the room put together.

The state religion is secularism and philosophic naturalism and it IS being taught in schools. The big lie we are induced to accept is that this religion is somehow superior to belief in God.

Liberals are constantly talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand we are to believe that Obama is a committed Christian. On the other hand, we are admonished about the foolishness of accepting Christian doctrine. Why don't you liars make up your minds?

I don't think either of the... (Below threshold)
Big Mo:

I don't think either of them made a gaffe. O'Donnell was reasoning correctly that "spearation of church and state" is not in the first amendment, while Coons was reasoning, alas correctly, that according to the 1940s SCOTUS, it's implied.

In otehr words, they came at the matter accordingt to their beliefs, but, as usual, the leftmedia ridiculed the conservative without even attempting to explain or understand.

("spearation?" must drink c... (Below threshold)
Big Mo:

("spearation?" must drink coffee now. But "spearation" sounds like it should be a word. :)

If God could grant one wish... (Below threshold)

If God could grant one wish, it would be, let Christine O'Donnell win the election -- that one act would save the United States of America.

BobO: "The problem for Rush... (Below threshold)

BobO: "The problem for Rush's argument is that even after Coons read the ACTUAL WORDS of the first amendment, O'Donnell said "That's in the first amendment?"

Uh, the problem for you BobO is that Coons did not read the "ACTUAL WORDS" of the first amendment. (BTW, all caps...really? why?)

Coons MISREAD the first amendment and when he did, O'Donnell jumped on him, since she was right.

Like most morons, you simply state what you'd like the facts to be, rather than what the facts are.

To wit:

Coons at the debate: "Government shall make no establishment of religion."

When Coons said that, O'Donnell reacted by saying: "That's in the First Amendment?"

Cuz what Coons said is not whats in the First Amendment. The First Amendment doesn't say "government." It says "Congress."

More importantly, the amendment reads: "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

And guess what BobO? That's not what Coons said the First Amendment says.

And guess what further BobO? That li'l change starts turning the meaning and intent of the First Amendment on it's head.

And guess what further further BobO? That means Coons is absolutely wrong on the facts and that you, having clearly taken no time to review the audio or actual transcript, are also absolutely wrong on the facts.

But hey, as long as you feel smug and superior based on your political leanings I guess it's cool and all.

Oh, and in the spirit of BobO, I'd like to say "BOBO IS AN ILLITERATE IDIOT WHO CLEARLY LACKS BASIC READING AND COMPREHENSION SKILLS" (since BobO is so fond of "all caps" to make a point).

Next thing you know Anita H... (Below threshold)

Next thing you know Anita Hill will want an apology from Christine O'Donnell. Leftism is not progressive, its backward thinking that lives in the dark ages.

What libs conveniently forg... (Below threshold)
jim m:

What libs conveniently forget is that the founders came from an England where you were taxed to support the church. The Danbury Baptists came from a concern that their rights to practice their religion had previously been threatened by he state of Connecticut.

The founders did not wish to be forced into supporting a church that they did not believe in. They did not want the government to create a state sponsored church, nor did they want government to create barriers to the practice of religion.

It's ironic that libs, who constantly whine about how context is so important (especially when explaining the stupid things they say), remove the context surrounding the Bill of Rights so they can reinterpret it to suit their own desires. They do this with the first amendment and the second as well as the tenth. They did it with the 4th in the Kelo case.

"Leftism is not progressive... (Below threshold)
jim m:

"Leftism is not progressive, its backward thinking that lives in the dark ages."

That explains why they are so friendly with the islamic extremists.

#24Yes, that is ex... (Below threshold)


Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking.

After reading all of these ... (Below threshold)

After reading all of these well thought out articulate arguments, and comments; I personally have come to the conclusion that whether Thomas J. intend for there to be a wall of separation or not, the rest of the framers did not.

And since this IS a Democracy the majority won. The constitution does not contain the word 'separation' instead it plainly says the the government shall not make any law, that includes
anti-freedom speech laws such as taxing a preacher for talking about moral issues that may be in the spotlight of the day such as homosexuality. Taxing anyone for what he says is immoral all by itself.

The amendment is intended to not only keep the government out of regulating churches but also from supporting any faith based belief system; such as Darwinism , Relativism, Elitism, or Communism or Fascism or Socialism or _______( fill in the blank) or any other believe before you see it oriented ideology. In fact it gets the government out of trying to regulate thought at all but actions only. Not intended actions but post action state. In other words the constitution prevents the Government from trying; and failing to the destruction of this Republic, to regulate thought at all. Instead it is designed to be punitive after something has occurred druther that before. Then there is a whole slew of proof needed because the founders of this nation understood the nature of men to fall into the state of lie-ass to do what ever a man wants. I also mean that all of the crappy 'intent' laws are Unconstitutional.

The constitution strikes the perfect balance between allowances and restriction.

Jefferson; I believe if my memory is correct, said that this constitution and this country was intended for a (paraphrased) good God fearing people.

I don't think either of ... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

I don't think either of them made a gaffe.

Agreed, BigMo. No, that phrase doesn't appear, but it is strongly implied and to think that it doesn't is to operate with blinders on.

More baffling: The focus on O'Donnell when she's 17.6 points (Real Clear Politics) and has ZERO chance of winning is absolute distraction from the pummeling the Left will take in 13 days.

Heck, while I'm straying off the reservation...

Why are we bothering with this woman? She's not bright, inarticulate and, frankly, has some held some weird-ass, backward views. More importantly, she clearly cost us (the GOP) a sure-fire Senate seat when she selfishly decided to run against Mike Castle who would have thumped Coons. Look, if the point is to defeat the Obama agenda--and it damn well better be the point--then maybe, just maybe, we ought to think about the lightning rods we prop up and support.

Here come the negative votes. Sigh.

O'Donnell correctly pointed... (Below threshold)

O'Donnell correctly pointed out that there is no "separation of church and state" in the constitution.

O'Donnell then correctly called Coons on his misquote "Government shall make no establishment of religion" where as the text says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

If a kid mentions Jesus (or Allah) in his valedictorian speech, has Congress made a law establishing religion? NO!!!

Debating who among O'Donnel... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

Debating who among O'Donnell and Coons knows less about the Constitution is sort of like debating whether Carolina or Buffalo is the worst NFL team.

She cost us nothing. M. Cas... (Below threshold)

She cost us nothing. M. Castle lost that race all on his own, if you want to get angry get angry at the certified RINO who went out of his way to lose his own primary, even after being given 12 weeks warning that he might be in trouble, and 3 weeks warning (AK primary) about dogging it. The DE voters though, once again are going to elect a buffoon to the senate just like they have for decades.

"Here come the negative ... (Below threshold)

"Here come the negative votes. Sigh."

Not from Me. I dont see the logic in not supporting O'Donnell over Coons since Castle lost out? But to each his own I guess. I voted for McCain despite himself because of the other half of the ticket. Seems to me a vote not for O'Donnell is a vote for Coons..

Peter F: "Agreed, BigMo. No... (Below threshold)

Peter F: "Agreed, BigMo. No, that phrase doesn't appear, but it is strongly implied and to think that it doesn't is to operate with blinders on."

Uh, no. It's not "strongly implied". And, uh, no, to think that it doesn't is NOT to operate with blinders on.

The actual context for the phrase "separation of church and state" has been completely lost (intentionally) by the left and, apparently, by you Peter F.

I humbly suggest you, Peter F., reread jim m's post (#23) and reevaluate your ahistorical interpretation of a phrase that appeared in a letter by an individual who played no part in the writing of the actual US Constitution and whose letter was intended to convey the opposite of what liberals today contend it conveys.

Sure O'Donnell is a poor ca... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Sure O'Donnell is a poor candidate. But Castle was no better. Does electability make you a good selection for holding a Senate seat? I sincerely doubt it. Look at the crap that has slouched its way through that chamber! John F'in Kerry is 'electable' and he's not much in the way of ability or brain power.

She's better than Coons by a long shot. I think that the DC insiders who freaked out when she won the promary revealed themselves to be short sighted and focued solely on maintaining the status quo. They want to regain controll of the Senate but they are strongly against governmental reform.

As for this subject I place her detractors on this right along with the historically illiterate dems who don't know what happened in 1773 and who believe that there are 57 states simply because Barry said so.

Here is one of three accomp... (Below threshold)
Locomotive Breath:

Here is one of three accomplishments that Thomas Jefferson thought was so important that he wanted it on his tombstone right between writing the Declaration of Independence and establishing UVA. It's hard to argue that Jefferson would have approved of the state interfering with an individual's religious life in any fashion.


The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom

Thomas Jefferson, 1786

Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

First, it seems to me that ... (Below threshold)

First, it seems to me that O'Donnell and her opponent both got taken out of context.

Second, I have had occasion to discuss the 1st amendment with (so-called) progressives and have been told that I am a neanderthal for pointing out the federal government cannot constitutionally make any law regulating the practice of religion. "You have to understand, the consitution is a living, breathing document..." I'm told. "Today, the Consitution doesn't mean what it meant 200 years ago..." (Ususally the arguments of progressive democrat who wants to silence those who disagree with with him/her.) But the Constitution was written to mean a certain thing and I have not seen a credible argument supporting the Living Document "fantasy."

Finally, if we are going to criticize political candidates'understanding - or lack of understanding - of the U.S. Constitution, we ought to make sure WE KNOW what the Constitution says... and the historical foundations of its text.

The actual context for t... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

The actual context for the phrase "separation of church and state" has been completely lost (intentionally) by the left and, apparently, by you Peter F.

No, actually, it has not in the least been misinterpreted by me. The phrase ""separation of church and state" isn't in the BoR, I get it and so does everyone else. But that's far too limiting and we don't get to say, "Well, that phrase isn't in The Constitution, therefore end of discussion."

Nonsense. The phrase is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Clearly the FF intended that to imply/mean a separation, a wall, a delineation, whatever you wish to call it, to be made. And thank God for them! I want a wall between my church and the State, as do you. Conversely, and while not specifically stated in the Const. and BoR, it is implied Religion should not play a role in government.* Why? Because a "separation" works both ways, just like a wall. If not, what's to to stop the State from fully breaching the wall with, say, a religion I don't agree with like, oh, Islam? Answer: Not much. In the end, the wall has to work both ways as much as possible. The FF knew this.

(To debate, as O'Donnell does, that the word "government" isn't in there is the most sophomoric of nits. Congress is the government, State. It's a lame counterpoint; the larger issue is one of purpose/intent of the phrase.)

Finally, a paragraph from jim m's #23 post:

The founders did not wish to be forced into supporting a church that they did not believe in. They did not want the government to create a state sponsored church, nor did they want government to create barriers to the practice of religion.

All of which is true! By accident or design, that paragraph does more to support my strong implication point than it does to refute it.

*Not really possible given that we are humans heavily influenced by our religious beliefs, but conscious must should be made.

Peter F,I think th... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Peter F,

I think the issue is that many on the left argue that what Jefferson meant by a separation is that religion must be left behind when entering the realm of the government. This was never the intent and the founders would universally be horrified by such a suggestion.

They inteded for government to stay out of religion but they all anticipated that personal religious beliefs would inform the Congress and the actions of government. In fact as late as Monroe the argument used against sending federal funds to relieve people affected by the hurricane and flooding in Texas was that to send federal funds ($10,000 at that time) would relieve people of their Christian duty to help their fellow man.

Religion was always supposed to inform government. The founders all believed that the moral character that religion produced in man was essential for our government to run properly. The left has declared that religion should have no influence in government and we have seen it spiral into the abyss of corruption and overreaching.

<a href="http://vftonline.o... (Below threshold)
retired military:


The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is considered part of America's "Organic Law."
It requires Christianity to be taught by the newly-admitted states in their schools.

Also from James Madison

Whereas the Congress of the United States, by a joint resolution of the two Houses, have signified a request that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of public humiliation and prayer; and
Whereas such a recommendation will enable the several religious denominations and societies so disposed to offer at one and the same time their common vows and adorations to Almighty God on the solemn occasion produced by the war in which He has been pleased to permit the injustice of a foreign power to involve these United States:
I do therefore recommend the third Thursday in August next as a convenient day to be set apart for the devout purposes of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of Mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking His merciful forgiveness and His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment, and especially of offering fervent supplications that in the present season of calamity and war He would take the American people under His peculiar care and protection; that He would guide their public councils, animate their patriotism, and bestow His blessing on their arms; that He would inspire all nations with a love of justice and of concord and with a reverence for the unerring precept of our holy religion to do to others as they would require that others should do to them; and, finally, that, turning the hearts of our enemies from the violence and injustice which sway their councils against us, He would hasten a restoration of the blessings of peace. Given at Washington, the 9th day of July, A. D. 1812. [SEAL.]
[From Annals of Congress, Twelfth Congress, part 2, 2224.]
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, James Madison, vol. 1, p.498

Pledged as we are, fellow-citizens, to these sacred engagements, we yet humbly, fervently implore the Almighty Disposer of events to avert from our land war and usurpation, the scourges of mankind; to permit our fields to be cultivated in peace; to instil into nations the love of friendly intercourse; to suffer our youth to be educated in virtue, and to preserve our morality from the pollution invariably incident to habits of war; to prevent the laborer and husbandman from being harassed by taxes and imposts; to remove from ambition the means of disturbing the commonwealth; to annihilate all pretexts for power afforded by war; to maintain the Constitution; and to bless our nation with tranquillity, under. whose benign influence we may reach the summit of happiness and glory, to which we are destined by nature and nature's God.
Virginia Resolutions of 1798, Pronouncing The Alien And Sedition Laws To Be Unconstitutional, And Defining The Rights Of The States.
Drawn by Mr. Madison IN THE VIRGINIA HOUSE OF DELEGATES Friday, December 21, 1798
Jonathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4, p.532

--------The commander-in-chief directs that divine service be performed every Sunday at eleven o'clock in those brigades [in] which there are chaplains; those which have none [are] to attend the places of worship nearest to them. It is expected that officers of all ranks will by their attendance set an example to their men. While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian. The signal instances of providential goodness which we have experienced, and which have now almost crowned our labors with complete success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of gratitude and piety to the Supreme Author of all good.
--George Washington, General Orders. . (1778.)

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 2, p.281 Appendix No. II. Fundamental Constitution for the Commonwealth of Virginia

To the citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia, and all others whom it may concern, the delegates for the said commonwealth in Convention assembled, send greeting:

It is known to you and to the world, that the government of Great Britain, with which the American States were not long since connected, assumed over them an authority unwarrantable and oppressive; that they endeavored to enforce this authority by arms, and that the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, considering resistance, with all its train of horrors, as a lesser evil than abject submission, closed in the appeal to arms. It hath pleased the Sovereign Disposer of all human events to give to this appeal an issue favorable to the rights of the States; to enable them to reject forever all dependence on a government which had shown itself so capable of abusing the trusts reposed in it; and to obtain from that government a solemn and explicit acknowledgment that they are free, sovereign, and independent States.

The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating [extinguishing] Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.[54] [T]he Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life. . . . [It] should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness.[55]

[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.[56]

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited.... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.[57] I have examined all [religions]... and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.[58]

[T]he Bible.... [is] a book containing the history of all men and of all nations and... [is] a necessary part of a polite education.[59]

The Bible itself [is] the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but of the world. [60]

To a man of liberal education, the study of history is not only useful, and important, but altogether indispensable, and with regard to the history contained in the Bible . . . "it is not so much praiseworthy to be acquainted with as it is shameful to be ignorant of it."[61]

The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history. They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is: a contradictory creature that seeing and approving of what is good, pursues and performs what is evil. All of private and of public life is there displayed.... From the same pure fountain of wisdom we learn that vice destroys freedom; that arbitrary power is founded on public immorality.[62]

[The Bible] is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.[63]

[T]o the free and universal reading of the Bible in that age, men were much indebted for right views of civil liberty. The Bible is . . . a book which teaches man his own individual responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality with his fellow man.[64]

The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.[65]

The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal [secular] concerns of men.[66]

Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses.[67]

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.[69]
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, 17 Sept. 1796.

The great pillars of all government and of social life . . . [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.[70]

We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.[72]

[T]he Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth. [and] laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.[73]

[T]he Christian religion -- its general principles -- must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.[74]

True religion always enlarges the heart and strengthens the social tie.[75]

Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.[76]

I have always considered Christianity as the strong ground of republicanism. . . . It is only necessary for republicanism to ally itself to the Christian religion to overturn all the corrupted political and religious institutions in the world.[77]

[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles.... and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.[78]

Thomas Jefferson said, "Rel... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Thomas Jefferson said, "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Unless of course you are a liberal.

Peter F., I will always tak... (Below threshold)

Peter F., I will always take country over party any day of the week. I know what you are saying, but the people of Deleware voted her to be the rep. and we should honor it. I am a conservative first and a republican second. Conservative hold strongly the ideals of this nation. She won fair and square. She has my support, win or lose. And if you are holding her high school and college age views against her, I pity every candidate you look at. ww

jim m:First, I app... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

jim m:

First, I appreciate the respectful reply. I think it may be experiencing a bit of a epiphany on the subject.

They inteded for government to stay out of religion but they all anticipated that personal religious beliefs would inform the Congress and the actions of government.

I don't know if they "intended" is the right word so much as they recognized it as being utterly unavoidable to keep religious influence out of decision making.

Hmm, thanks. You've given me something to ponder I thought I understood.

WW is right.The no... (Below threshold)
jim m:

WW is right.

The notion of holding someone accountable for things they believed or said in college is insane. I am very different from the young man who entered college a liberal atheist. Exceptionally few would recognize me as that person today.

To drag out foolish behavior (God forbid they drag out those photos of me from the fraternity!) and declare that the person who committed that behavior stand before yuo 20 years or more later and is utter unchanged by the experience is just plain ignorant.

Of course, the libs are the first to cry foul when their candidates confess of drug abuse when in college. They claim that back then their candidate was too young to really be accountable for his actions. But should a GOP candidate say or do something tha casts them in a bad light the left is front and center with their accusations. Disgusting hypocrites.

Pretty good discussion goin... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Pretty good discussion going on here. Lots of people make really excellent points.

As I see it, the FF did indeed intend to separate church and state, for some obvious reasons, IMO. Think about the histories of Europe that immediately preceded the founding of the US. The 16th-18th centuries saw considerable conflict, and religion was often a key factor. I mean, Henry the VIII is exhibit A for the need to separate church and state!!!

There were various religious denominations here in the US colonies, and the FF were careful to avoid creating a system of governance that allowed for one religious sect to dominate. Different colonies were composed of various Christian and other denominations, and creating a system that did not favor any particular group was CRITICAL. Hence the references about making no law "respecting an establishment of religion."

The whole plan was to avoid creating a theocratic state that mandated one particular set of beliefs or practices. Think about all of the historical conflicts between various Protestant sects, Catholicism, Judaism, etc. The FF were pretty well versed in history, politics, and philosophy of governance--they knew what they were doing.

However, the implied separation between church and state did not mean the banishment of religion. The FF specifically wrote about "freedom of religion," again for some very specific reasons. I think that some people misread the purpose and intent of this separation and assume that the FF were arguing that religion was not supposed to be a part of public life or government.

I think they actually meant to put a check on the power of religion in government, since one of the primary ideals was not only individual freedom, but the freedom to follow a particular religion. Basically, the FF were trying to create a system that avoided the type of problems that arise when dictators and/or kings mandated particular religions, or when powerful figures like the pope were able to have undue influence upon political governance.

The US was founded upon some pretty interesting principles. This includes a heavy dose of western philosophy, enlightenment thought, and, yes, Judeo-Christian principles.

I do think that some people overreact on the left and assume that the FF were arguing for some kind of atheistic or agnostic state--but I don't really think that was the case at all. They were trying to create a democratic system that could fairly govern a pluralistic state and protect the rights of minorities within a system of rule by majority. That's the crux of the matter. Not an easy task. I think some folks on the left forget about context and just assume that the goal was to get rid of Christianity, when in fact the goal was to make provisions that protected against the dominance of any single religious system in governance. This was never about being anti-religion or anti-Christianity. It WAS about anti-theocracy.

The same system that keeps Christianity from assuming control of the US govt also keeps every other religion from doing so as well.

jim m wrote:"The n... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

jim m wrote:

"The notion of holding someone accountable for things they believed or said in college is insane."

I absolutely agree. ABSOLUTELY. Especially after having to watch the really LAME political ads that both sides are running this season. Here in KY I am being subjected to the bottom of the barrel political tactics of both Rand Paul AND Jack Conway. The ads really suck, to put it bluntly, and provide little actual information that is useful. Conway's newest ad against Paul is just stupid, and I'm certainly no fan of Rand Paul.

Whenever I see these kinds of base tactics I start hoping for viable 3rd, 4th, and 5th parties to enter the fray someday. Ya, that'll happen...

"Separation" is a word th... (Below threshold)

"Separation" is a word that bothers me. It makes me think of a school teacher separating a couple of scuffling kids. Separation is an action and requires the use or application of physical force. As peaceably as we can, let us all freely exercise our rights under the 1st Amendment.
"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."

The only sense in which the... (Below threshold)
jim m:

The only sense in which the founders wanted to limit the influence of religion in government was to exclude the possibility of having a state authorized religion. These men had come from England and were all too familiar with how the Anglican church had operated to exclude other denominations and how the Baptists and Congregationalists etc had been oppressed there. They wanted to avoid having a church have that kind of influence. And yes they wanted to avoid having an unelected class dictate to the government what to do.

None of these things are what is being interpreted today. Libs want government to be sterilized of any religious and especially Christian thought.

jim,I agree with y... (Below threshold)
ryan a:


I agree with you for the most part, especially about the actual intent of the framers of US govt. It wasn't really about taking religion out, but about avoiding certain undue influence in govt by any particular religious group.

"Libs want government to be sterilized of any religious and especially Christian thought."

I'd argue that SOME liberals are pushing for this, but by no means all of them. In fact, plenty of dems/liberals are in fact pretty religious (whether Christian or otherwise). So I think this is actually about certain segments of the liberal camp, rather than the whole group (specifically, groups such as the 'new atheists' come to mind).

Anyway I think you, BigMo, and Peter F (and others) have made some good points on this thread. Definitely an interesting discussion.

The issue of the central go... (Below threshold)

The issue of the central government in any way infringing on people or states in the area of religion would have prevented the constitution from ever seeing the light of day. At the time, some key states had certain religion tied to rights and some to taxes. The purpose of the clause was to insure that unlike in Europe, there would be no central government mandate or or changes to those rights. When you read the first amendment as written, it is clear that what is happening today under the guise of a "separation" is exactly what the constitution forbid.
The seperation came from a letter as stated in the comments above to a Baptist Church and it came at a time when Jefferson was being hit hard for not showing more of his personal belief and in fact was being accused of being an aethist which could have cost him an election. It came at a time when Christian church services were being held every sunday in the house of representatives and which Jefferson become a regular attendee once again to show his faith. However, it does not matter because what Jefferson wrote in a letter is not in any way relvent to what was signed in the constitution and what was agreed to by the states who ratified the constitution or which those who hold office swear to uphold. Liberal justices have made very bad law by inventing things not in the constitution and this is one of those mistakes. The supreme court also gave us dred scott and a lot of other bad decisions which were later reversed. If the country now wants to have seperation of church and state, those who do should push through an amendment to the constitution. I would hate to see rulings based on letters of Jimmy Carter to Hamas or other terror groups becoming the law of the land.

39: no it was Justice Dougl... (Below threshold)

39: no it was Justice Douglas, unless you are neocon who hates reality of course : http://vftonline.org/EndTheWall/organic_law.htm

Man, so many people still b... (Below threshold)

Man, so many people still bealive in fairy tales? Jesus is Santa for grown ups ;)

O'Donnell was right; Coons ... (Below threshold)

O'Donnell was right; Coons was wrong:







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