The video: This morning, Delaware's Republican Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, made what some observers consider a major gaffe during a debate over the teaching of creationism in local schools — drawing gasps from the audience when she asked her Democratic opponent Chris Coons "where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" (See video below.) Later in the debate, Coons said her question revealed a "fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is," going on to explain that the First Amendment prevents Congress from making laws regarding the establishment of religion, the basis for the separation of church and state concept.
The reaction: "O'Donnell revealed a lack of basic knowledge about the U.S. Constitution," says Nicole Allan in The Atlantic. Not so, says O'Donnell's campaign manager, Matt Moran, as quoted by the Associated Press: "She simply made the point that the phrase ['separation of church and state'] appears nowhere in the Constitution." The phrase itself came from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802, long after the Constitution was ratified, notes Elizabeth Tenety in The Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. "This tension — between the freedom of citizens to express their faith and the duty of government to stay out of the religion business — has haunted America throughout her history," and this "open debate" about where to draw the line separating church and state might just be a sign of our "healthy and functioning democracy." Watch O'Donnell's controversial moment at 2:51 below:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why the Supreme Court is allowing Texas to hold an unconstitutional election
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How 1,000-year lifespans could remake the economy
- Ban PowerPoint!
- Rise of the machines
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
Subscribe to the Week