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. GWillis

    Actually, Ms. O'Donnell is correct – here is the First Amendment VERBATIM: "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." efferson was responding to a letter that the Association had written him. In that letter, they expressed their concerns about the Constitution not reaching the State level. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not yet exist, thus leaving the States vulnerable to federal legislation. In Jefferson's letter, he was reassuring the Baptists of Danbury that their religious freedom would remain protected – a promise that no possible religious majority would be able to force out a state's official church. The original text reads: "...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." Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists (June 1998) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin. The phrase was quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1947. The phrase appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.

    October 19, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. Larry

    O'Donnell continues to amaze me by out-stupiding Sarah Palin. America, wake up! You can't vote for a candidate who stands for nothing but patriotism, small government, and lower taxes, without any specifics. PT Barnum whould have been envious of teabaggers.

    October 19, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Former Republican - Now Independent

    Well, then Vice-President Spiro Agnew once said that even mediocre people should be represented in Congress ... but I would bet that he would have drawn the line at the Tea Republican Party, Sara Palin and Ms. O'Donnell. Heck, even Agnew would seem like a genius compared to these Bozos, oops, clowns. Don't want to insult Bozo.

    October 19, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  4. Nick Haynes

    I have no love loss for Ms. O'Donnell, but I cannot agree that Mr. Coons is correct. The idea of "separation" is derived from the "wall of separation between church and state," as written in Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802. Jefferson was responding to a letter that the Association had written him. The 14th Amendment had not yet been written, let alone adopted. Modern courts have not explicitly stated that there is a Constitutional "separation"–and the words do not exist in the Constitution. However, it may be argued, and frequently is with success, that the courts have created a separation. This is a case of poor journalism–for not fact checking and–and woefully lack of knowledge on the part of Ms. O'Donnell.

    October 19, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  5. Bubba

    Burn the witch.

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  6. azazel1000

    Notice neither candidate was ready to speak fluently about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yeah, O'Donnell is woefully ignorant of many facts, that's obvious, and it's sad that "Grassroots" has come to mean "Happily Ignorant." However, Coons has also tripped up in much the same way on other occasions, including this same debate. All too often politicians- new and veteran alike- are making idiots out of themselves with their lack of knowledge of the most basic, the most fundamental, the most cited documents in our history. Poll the Senate, the House, both sides of the aisle and my guess is you'll find these people barely know a stitch of our founding documents anymore.
    If your butcher couldn't tell you all the cuts of meat on a cow, would you consider him or her competent?
    If your local librarian couldn't explain how to use the filing system, would you want them to stay in that position?
    If the Tech Support staff at work couldn't find the power switch on your computer, would they keep their jobs?
    We deserve better. Shame on these "leaders." Bipartisan shame.

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  7. Brian

    Separation of Church & State comes from a letter Jefferson wrote to a Virginia pastor years after the Constitution was ratified. The 1st Amendment only prohibits the establishment of a state religion (like the nefarious Church of England). O'Connell was right on that point at least.

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  8. jake

    this bimbo is running for senate? doens even know whats in the constitution. it just keeps getting dumber and dumber. these republicans have no self respect, no ideology can replace common sense. then again show me a common sense republican. its hard to find, isnt it?

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  9. Loren

    This "mamma grizzly" has no shame, no credentials and no competence. She is becoming a spectacle and an embarrassing one for any semblance of legitimacy the Tea Party may be seeking. Better quit while she's behind.

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  10. Carmen

    She's just parroting what her handlers have drilled into her without thinking about it. I'm sure her coaches discussed their lame neo-con argument that the phrase "separation of church and state" doesn't appear in the Constitution (although it appears in the earliest writings of the Framers of the Constitution), and in her mind that means the Constitution is silent on the issue. Yeah, this is who Delaware wants representing them in Congress. Although I'm sure she'll continue to surround herself by people to do her thinking for her, if she is elected.

    October 19, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  11. Tam

    I've got a college degree in political science. Have been working for a few years. But I don't consider myself qualified to run for public office unless I get some community experience and local political experience. I guess I'm wrong?

    October 19, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  12. RF

    Another Palin Clone! These are the conservative nation Saviours? Better to keep your mouth shut than open it and remove all doubt!

    October 19, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  13. jeff, alabama

    Coons could not name the five freedoms contained in the
    first amendment.
    Yet your article dwells on the subject of O'donnell's mistake.
    Even the headline of the story dwells on O'donnell's mistake.
    And you turn around and make fun of O'donnell saying that
    the media has it in for her.
    Looks like O'donnell makes a good point. Biden makes this
    maybe not so bright lady with a good heart look like a scholar.
    And he is the Vice President for Pete's sake.

    October 19, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  14. Chuck Anaheim

    You cant be serious! I think this is pretty much Jr. high civics. If people actually elect people like this we may as well just fold up and close shop.

    October 19, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  15. tracy

    Is she really a candidate or does she just need her bills paid when the election is over? This is just painful to watch and read..

    October 19, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  16. Mark

    Congratulations CNN ... keep beating up the Republicans!!!! Your Democratic party might win a few more seats in November thanks to you.

    October 19, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. Charlie from the North

    Look not everyone needs to be a constitutional expert to enjoy the blessings of liberty any more than a knowledge of physics is necessary to enjoy riding a bike. But if you are going to mess with those laws, as is clearly the intent of the GOPTP, then you better darned well know what you are talking about. Clearly they don't.

    October 19, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  18. Judge

    Regarding the fourteenth Amendment, Being born here makes one as American as apple pie. Other than that, unless we are all full blooded American Indian, somewhere down the line, we all have imigrant heritage.

    October 19, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  19. Jess C

    I think even the air is escaping from the heads of these wingnuts! This explains why she and the other Palin clones avoid debates and interviews that are unscripted or without pre-screened questions. To successfully participate would require knowledge that they don't have. What started all these freak shows?

    October 19, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  20. Tanya Kujath

    Bless her heart...

    October 19, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  21. John

    Ignorance has become a Tea Party fashion statement.

    October 19, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  22. Commen Sense

    The so called mandate of "separation of church and state" is NOT in the Constitution!
    Read the Constitition by yourself. The closest language is in Amendment 1 which was intended to PROTECT the people with religion (on religious portion). The key phrase is "make no law", that is, don't make any laws to regulate religion, which also means to let people freely chose whatever religion they want. Of course, the government cannot make any laws to prohibit people excercising their religion.

    October 19, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  23. mdn

    The core issues of importance to the Tea Party include the ability to teach creationism in school, limit illegal immigration and the "legal offspring", lower or eliminate taxes, and to size down government. While I may not agree with all the ideas, I do recognize them to be bold ideas that need serious debate and discussion.

    If our elected Senators do not understand or know the basic principle of the constitution well, then how are they going to be able to debate effectively. I don't think using Facebook or twitter to communicate your position while insulating yourself from legitimate differences of opinion adds to your credibility.

    October 19, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  24. Darb Pa

    Absolutely laughable! This is why John Q. Public should not run for political office... At least brush up on your civics if your going to run.

    October 19, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  25. beth

    This ladyi is a real joke. How did she ever think she had the knowledge or experience to run for public office. She and her cohorts talk incessantly about the constitution, and she knows nothing about it. It would be funny if it weren't so scary and sad!!

    October 19, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
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