October 19th, 2010
01:01 PM ET
12 years ago

O'Donnell gets Coons for Constitutional Law 101

(CNN) – Christine O'Donnell received a lesson on the Constitution at Delaware's Widener Law School Tuesday, but unfortunately for the Republican Senate candidate it came during a debate with Democrat Chris Coons.

On the issue of whether creationism should be taught in public schools, a highly skeptical O'Donnell questioned Coon's assertion that the First Amendment calls for the separation of church and state.

"The First Amendment does?" O'Donnell asked during the Tuesday morning debate. "Let me just clarify: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

Watch the heated interaction, after the jump:

Coons responded by quoting the relevant text: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

"That's in the First Amendment?" a still skeptical O'Donnell replied smiling, as laughter could be heard from the crowd.

Earlier in the debate, O'Donnell flat out asked, "Where in the Constitution is separation of Church and State?" - a question that Coons did not appear to take seriously.

Matt Moran, campaign manager for Christine O’Donnell, said in a statement that O'Donnell "was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was in fact Chris Coons who demonstrated his Constitutional ignorance when he could not name the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment.”

Unfortunately for O'Donnell, the Tea Party-backed candidate also stumbled over the Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments when asked if she would support repealing them.

"I'm sorry, I didn't bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately, senators don't have to memorize the Constitution. Can you remind me of [them]?" O'Donnell said.

Some Republicans and members of the Tea Party movement have advocated repealing the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment that grants citizenship to every individual born in the United States and the Sixteenth Amendment that created the Federal Income Tax.

Members of the Tea Party movement have also called for a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment – the provision that calls for direct election of U.S. senators. O'Donnell was aware of that amendment and said she supported it.

Filed under: 2010 • Chris Coons • Christine O'Donnell • Delaware
soundoff (325 Responses)
  1. Elise

    I think it's pretty clear that she was making a point, not that she did not know the first amendment.

    October 19, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  2. Scythianeedle

    The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution IN FULL:

    "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."

    THERE IS NO PHRASE ANYWHERE IN THE CONSTITUTION "separation of Church and State."

    This is a New concept being promoted by Marxists and Communists and Progressivists and people who believe that humans are mere mechanical accidents in a universe without meaning.

    The United States Senate and House of Representatives each have a Chaplain, and begin their sessions with a prayer.

    It is absurd to mock one candidate for pointing out that this doctrine IS NOT FOUND IN THE CONSTITUTION.

    October 19, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  3. Alistair

    this lady is so dumb.

    October 19, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  4. Ferret out the B.S.

    This is one ignorant candidate. Many times we learn on the job (OJT) but this is rediculous. She doesn't even know the basic provisions of the freedoms and rights she is supposed to be fighting for. Please don't allow this nitwit to have any possible influence over the operation of this country, it's economy, and most importantly it's citizens.

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  5. Futon Torpedo

    Ooooooookaaaaaay. Lord help us.

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  6. Guy

    It doesn't matter that she is not smart. She a Tea party candidate and Sarah Palin got her back...
    What a joke...

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  7. U.S. Common Sense

    She is right though. The concept of Separation fo Church and State – as it is often discussed – refers to the non-involvement of faith in politics. This isn't the meaning of the First Amendment – which bars the establishment of a national religion. This is why aspects of religion are found all over the place in political writings, traditions, and monuments. It is unfortunate that Coons fails (at least in his response) to understand the difference between the two.

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  8. steve

    The author of this story has had an oops moment. O'Donnell was correct in questioning the statement that the constitution contains "separation' language.

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  9. spike in conshohocken pa

    O'Donnell is dumb even by Delaware standards, which is to say super-dumb. She's not as dumb as Sarah Palin, but that's not saying much.

    October 19, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. Rob in PA

    We laugh and we laugh and we laugh at the absolute absurdity of these bimbo MILF tea party candidates sucking at the teet of Sarah Palin, yet many such as Sharon Angle have a good shot at winning. And even O'Donnell will get a good 30-40% of the vote when all is said and done. Point is I don't fear Al Quada or China or a nuclear Iran or the falling dollar anywhere near as much as I fear the growing number of voting Americans who's intelligence falls somewhere between Paris Hilton and Snooky.

    October 19, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  11. G what a Mess

    please nobody laugh we really need to fix our education system and we know who we don't want trying to fix it. Palin, o'donell the biggest joke to politics. T bag people put it in your mouth and save what dignity you have for when the south shall rise again. lol moveon.org

    October 19, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  12. conservative

    Did you really write this? She was absolutely correct. The First Amend. only prohibits the establishment of an official religion.
    Looks like you have some studying to do.
    You are so eager to smear O'Donnell that you wrote off the cuff and didn't even do your homework. You get all of your education from liberals and probably haven't even read the Constitution.

    Watch FOX, you might learn something. Ha.

    October 19, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. Jason Van Steenwyk

    O'Donnell is right. The idea of a "wall of separation between church and state" comes not from the Constitution, but from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a church committee in Connecticut in 1802. But this half-educated twit of a reporter was so steeped in his own assumptions and false narratives he made an idiot of himself. At least, to informed people. Other half-educated twits, no doubt, will nod their heads in approval.

    October 19, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  14. carl

    The concept of "separation of church and state" is indeed NOT specifically stated in the constitution. O'Donnell may not be a constiutional scholar, but she is not guilty , as is Mr. Coons of creating law from thin air. The first amendment only prohibits Congress from "establishing" a religion. It also protects the free practice OF religion.

    October 19, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  15. Ed L

    Typical GOP dope.

    October 19, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. Greenspam

    The irony is that if O'Donnell won, she would be sworn over bible to protect the Constitution of the USA. How could she defend it if she didn't know what's in it???

    October 19, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  17. vburke

    What a total loon.

    October 19, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  18. The Other Dale

    Don't worry – the Tea Partiers will twist this around into something that is Coon's fault, even though O'Donnell explicitedly questioned a statement from the Amendment itself, as if she had never heard the First Amendment before. Then to act like she had suckered Coon into a "gotcha" moment?! Amazing.

    October 19, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  19. Sparky

    People are actually gonna vote for someone ignorant of whats in the constitution..............wow......for all you that want Obama and the Democrats out? well, this is what's getting in

    October 19, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  20. Joe Taucher

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

    That is not a separation of Church and state, so she was right.
    The reasoning:
    – Congress cannot establish a national religion.
    – Congress used to pray and meet in churches all the time, including before and after the 1st amendment was created.
    – Separation of Church and state is a modern phrase that stretches and/or mis-interprets the 1st amendment.
    – O'Donnell's thinking is in line with Supreme Court Justice Scalia.
    – The Law students that laughed embarrassed themselves by accepting a wrong interpretation of the 1st amendment.

    October 19, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  21. buckup

    she will lead us
    off a cliff to fantasy land

    October 19, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  22. sergeant

    Could all of you get it right the ammendments are found in the bill of rights not the Constitution.

    October 19, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. mary fusco

    Seems to me that O'Donnell was correct in her assertion that the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the first amendment....and that the one with constitutional egg on their face was coons who could not accurately name the five freedoms granted by the first amendment....hmmm your reporting while glazing over that fact, still implies O'Donnell was somehow the ignorant one....aren't you at all embarrased by your inability to accurately report the news without bias?

    October 19, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  24. Paul

    She's right, separation of church and state isn't in the U.S. Constitution. It was invented by the courts as a constitutional doctrine in the last half of the 20th century. At the time the First Amendment was written, it was understood to protect religious freedom, and to limit the federal government from interfering with religion, not to limit states or private action, and certainly not to try to force religious people into closets. Hence, the fact that at the state level there were effectively state religions for well after the Bill of Rights was passed. This is constitutional history that any honest and educated person ought to understand. The problem for O'Donnell is that she's dealing with journalists who don't know squat beyond the secular platitudes they hold onto with religious fervor, and those platitudes aren't constitutional fact, they're just ideological positions they figure must be true if they repeat them enough. Hence, the fools mocking.

    October 19, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  25. sce

    There is nothing in the 1st Amendment about separation of church and state. O'Donnell got it right (your article even admits it–sort of), and yet you still write an article about her getting it wrong. Establisment of a religion and separation of church and state are similar, but not the same. The former is in the constitution, the latter is not. I think that's the point O'Donnell was trying to make. While we do require separation, those rules are not born out of the constitution, but out of other laws.

    October 19, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
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