There’s been a lot of chortling about Republican Senate candidate and Tea Buggerer Christine O’Donnell’s recent misunderstanding of the First Amendment. But it actually reveals a lot about the mindset of movement conservatives (and, remember, everything you need to know about how they operate can be understood by observing creationists). ScienceBlogling Ed Brayton sets the stage:
The debate was actually held at Widener Law School, which probably explains why the audience literally bursts into laughter when she she says:
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”
The audience laughed out loud and she just sat there with a dumbass grin on her face. A few minutes later Coons returned to that issue and said, “The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish any religion…” O’Donnell interrupted at that point and asked, “The First Amendment does?” and kind of nodded her head in a sarcastic way. Well yes, Christine, it does. You might try reading it sometime.
Then she continued her incredulity, saying, “So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?” In fact, she repeated that question three times with this sarcastic smile on her face, as if she’d just caught him saying something outrageous. It’s really quite bizarre to watch the video.
Perhaps even worse, she once again repeats the absolute falsehood that the Supreme Court has always upheld local control of education decisions.
The last paragraph is the tell. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In a literal sense, O’Donnell is right: the First Amendment doesn’t mention the separation of church and state–that phrase was first used by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Nonetheless, at the time, the proponents of the Bill of Rights, including Jefferson himself, understood the First Amendment in this light. Since then the courts have repeatedly upheld this basic view.
But in Wingnutopia, the establishment clause is interpreted very literally–as long as there’s no official state religion, one can use public resources and power to promote sectarian dogma (which, of course, just happens to be theopolitically conservative Christianity). This is considered normal. What we witnessed is someone used to being in the wingnut bubble suddenly having to meet the Coalition of the Sane on our own terms, and it was ugly.
Of course, like biblical ‘literalism’, this literalism is selectively literal. After all, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 conflict in their orders of creation, yet this doesn’t seem to be a problem for a ‘literal’ interpretation*. After all, they don’t interpret the Second Amendment literally. The bit about “for purposes of forming a militia” is typically ignored. And a bunch of guys running around in combat fatigue underoos on the weekend is not what the militias were at all. In colonial times, these were organized by local governments, and failure to uphold one’s militia obligations was punishable (although this was, in practice, honored in the breach).
The O’Donnell idiocy is very instructive, as it sheds light on wingnut ideology. This is not her personal stupidity (if nothing else, she possesses a feral cunning that expresses itself in her ability to convince idiots to support her political Elmer Gantryism). This is how a large group of conservatives ‘think.’
If you live in Delaware, please remember this and vote against her.
*Some actually try to reconcile these two different creation stories by positing a flood that wiped out the first creation. This is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Not very literalist.