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Show Me Where It Says

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, in formal debate with Democratic candidate Chris Cooms, shocked an audience of law students and their professors by denying that the US Constitution imposes a separation of church and state.

Later attempts to explain away the gaffe as merely a demand to see where the precise phrase “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution are disingenuous. O’Donnell has claimed before, though to considerably less public sniggering because it was to sympathetic audiences, that there is no such imposition.

But the intention is a bigger lie yet. The phrase itself is not there; it originates in Jefferson’s personal correspondence: “a wall of separation between church and state,” and appears later in Supreme Court decisions. But the sentiment and the legal force is all there, in black and white. The First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” To claim that there is no mandated separation of church and state simply because that exact phrase is not in the Constitution is something like claiming that murdering is Constitutionally protected because the word “murder” appears nowhere therein and so is a right “reserved to the States respectively, or to the People,” or that chaining up dark-skinned people and forcing them to pick cotton is acceptable, because the Constitution mentions nothing of chains and cotton in the Thirteenth Amendment, merely a prohibition of slavery, or that torturing political prisoners is perfectly legal, because the Constitution prohibits only of cruel and unusual punishment, not “torture.” And, God help us, we already seem to have accepted that last one.

Tea Party darlings: politicians who feel the laws only apply when convenient. Or better yet, made up entirely. By the right people, of course. Somehow, health care, another phrase which appears nowhere in the Constitution, is, in the minds of teabaggers, Constitutionally prohibited to an even greater degree than torture is acceptable.

Senators, like presidents, swear to support the Constitution. What, in the name of Ned, does O’Donnell expect she’ll be supporting?

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