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Giving O'Donnell the benefit of the doubt

October 20, 2010 |  1:56 pm

Christine O'Donnell Is Christine O'Donnell getting a bum rap for her ingenuous question,  "Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?"  It depends on whether the  Delaware Senate candidate intended  to put quotation marks around "separation of church and state." That's what her defenders seem to think -- that she was asking (rhetorically?) where the words "separation of church and state" could be found in the Constitution.

The answer, of course, is nowhere. Thomas Jefferson's famous metaphor of a "wall of separation" appears in a letter, not in the Constitution. Some conservatives harp on this omission, suggesting that the absence of the S-word renders suspect decades of court decisions interpreting the 1st Amendment's ban on an "establishment of religion." Was O'Donnell obliquely making this point?

It's possible, I suppose. The alternative explanation -- that she didn't know the 1st Amendment embodied the concept of church-state separation -- is pretty depressing to contemplate. But so is a lot of what O'Donnell says. 

-- Michael McGough

Credit: AP Photo / Robert Craig



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