“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” asked Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, the controversial GOP candidate for Senate, during an event at a law school last night.
Well, it’s in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:
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 gaffe has since highlighted a Connecticut connection to our nation’s concept of the separation of Church and State.
While O’Donnell clip has been been making the rounds on cable news channels and political websites, as it apparently shows her basic constitutional knowledge to be lacking, though her aides argued she was simply highlighting the fact the exact words “church and state” never appear in the document.
They are correct, technically.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:
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. (read the full text)