Church and Stupid: Christine O’Donnell’s cocky ignorance of the First Amendment


Does Christine O’Donnell understand that the First Amendment prohibits federal establishment of religion?

Yesterday she challenged her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, on this question during a debate. Media reports on the exchange depicted her as ignorant. In response, conservative writers and pundits—Rush Limbaugh, Ramesh Ponnuru, and bloggers at National Review, the American Spectator, First Things, Right Wing News, and other sites—have come to her defense. They claim O’Donnell was disputing not the Constitution but liberal interpretations of it. In Limbaugh’s words:

There was a story that was written in such a way to make the reader believe that Christine O’Donnell did not know that the First Amendment prohibited the government from establishing 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.

It’s true that the phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution. It’s also true that this was O’Donnell’s main point. But Limbaugh and her other defenders can’t hide what she revealed along the way. O’Donnell did express incredulity that the First Amendment prohibits government establishment of religion. It’s right there on the tape.

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