Article Of The Week
The point of William Saletan's article in Slate is not the title, "Church and Stupid," which is borderline misleading. The argument, proven beyond a reasonable doubt, is in the subtitle "Christine O'Donnell's cocky ignorance of the First Amendment."
It's not that a disingenousRamesh Ponnuru of National Review claims, "What she denies is that the First Amendment requires “the separation of church and state," that a cynical Michelle Malkin contends "all you’ll hear from the MSM today is that Christine O’Donnell — correctly — questioned Coons’ claim that the phrase “the separation of church and state” appears in the First Amendment," or that a defiant Rush Limbaugh exclaims "It's not! Christine O'Donnell was absolutely correct. The First Amendment says nothing about 'the separation of church and state.'"
In Tuesday's Delaware senatorial debate (extended video of segment below), GOP nominee Christine O'Donnell did not note merely that the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the first amendment of the United States Constitution. Coons never said that this phrase appears in the Constituion; he did, however, argue "the federal government shall not establish any religion." As Saletan explains, Coons was referring to the line "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." and "has the gist right." (Ironically, the exact wording- "respecting an establishment of religion"- makes Coons' argument even stronger.)
Referring to the privacy concept embedded in the Supreme Court's Griswold and Roe v. Wade decisions, Coons explains
The zone of privacy is something that the Supreme Court interpreted the Bill of Rights and several of those amendments to create. It is important for us in modern times to apply the Constitution, in my view, as it exists today and as it has been interpreted by our judges and if there are settled pieces of constitutional law, like the separation of church and state, like individual rights, like the individual right to reproductive freedom that Roe v. Wade represents, that we live with and have lived under for decades, it is important to know that you have, on my side a candidate who believes and supports those things and on the other side...."
Here, O'Donnelll interrupts Coons (who continues speaking, but whose words are hard to discern) to state "let me just clarify- you're telling me, that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment."
Coons responds "the government shall make no establishment of religion." O'Donnell is convinced that she has caught Coons in a major gaffe, believing that she is the cat that has caught the canary (old metaphor). Turning toward the audience and smiling broadly, even smugly, she disbelievingly replies "that's in the First Amendment," certain she has clinched the argument, if not the entire debate.
Ignorance of the First Amendment, Saletan observes, is not what is "disturbing" because, he believes, her "ignorance has now been repaired" with "her damage-control interview." Rather,
What's disturbing is the bemused confidence with which she mocked the truth. It's the same confidence with which she dismisses evolution, claims that America has gone socialist, and asserts that "American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."
This is how it typically is in modern conservatism, extreme edition, which is to say, modern conservatism, as demonstrated by Ponnuru, Malkin, and Limbaugh. Sloppily and/or dishonestly, they eagerly quote only a portion of the relevant exchange and allow for no possiblility of a different interpretation- or even that they may not have the described the full dialogue. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but always certain. The late Dr. Carlton Fredericks would condemn "opinionated ignorance." William Saletan says the same thing, only a little differently: "Ignorance is temporary,but imperviousness is forever."
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