Christine O’Donnell questioned the existence of the separation of church and state in the First Amendment during a debate against Chris Coons, her Democrat opponent. It was held at Widener University Law School with an audience consisting primarily of law students.
There has been disagreement among jurists on wether or not there is a true separation of church and state. To review, here is the First Amendment:
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.”
The phrase “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” has been debated with two different frames of thought emerging.
The first is the thought that the federal government shall not establish a religion. The Church of England controlled the English government, so the founding fathers wanted to avoid establishing a mandatory religion.
The founding fathers also wanted religious beliefs to remain a part of government, as the Creator is mentioned in government documents. They just wanted to make sure a particular religion was never in control of government.
The second opinion is the government should be devoid of all religious thought and sterilized with the elimination of Christmas and all Christian holidays.
The Huffington Post reported (t)he exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire tells us “When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: ‘You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?'”
Professor Bainbridge postulates (a)s all ought to know, the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Bill of Rights. Instead, the infamous wall metaphor appears in Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence.
Wall Builders explains: Thomas Jefferson believed, along with the other Founders, that the First Amendment had been enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national denomination – a fact he made clear in a letter to fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush.
Courts have ruled with both sides in various rulings. We should expect this debate to be continued.
Considering the first paid federal government employee was a preacher, the courts should be an interesting venue to see what happens to religious rights in the future.
The First Amendment does say the government should not make any law “prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.