Thursday, October 28, 2010

O'Donnell, Jefferson on Separation of Church and State

Republican Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell's 2008 primary campaign manager Jonathon Moseley this week offered a $1,000.00 reward to anyone who could find the phrase "separation of church and state" in the Constitution.  (Thanks to Carrie Beth Clark for the tip.)  The offer comes on the heels of O'Donnell's statement in her debate last week with Democrat Chris Coons that the First Amendment contains no such phrase and requires no such separation.

The phrase, of course, comes from Thomas Jefferson's January 1, 1802, letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in response to that group's address congratulating him on his election as president.  The Library of Congress, with the help of the FBI, analyzed Jefferson's handwritten draft of the letter, including Jefferson's edits, and featured the letter in a 1998 exhibit on church and state.  The LoC gives us an historical context here.  The text of Jefferson's final letter is here; the unedited text is here.


From the LoC:

Jefferson revealed that he hoped to accomplish two things by replying to the Danbury Baptists.  One was to issue a "condemnation of the alliance between church and state."  This he accomplished in the first, printed, part of the draft.  Jefferson's strictures on church-state entanglement were little more than rewarmed phrases and ideas from his Statutes Establishing Religious Freedom (1786) and from other, similar statements.  To needle his political opponents, Jefferson paraphrased a passage, that "the legitimate powers of government extent to . . . acts only" and not to opinions, from the Notes on the State of Virginia, which the Federalists had shamelessly distorted in the election of 1800 in an effort to stigmatize him as an atheist.  So politicized had church-state issues become by 1802 that Jefferson . . . considered the articulation of his views on the subject, in messages like the Danbury Baptist letter, as ways to fix his supporters' "political tenets."

Here's what Moseley had to say:

Jefferson was not in the Constitutional Convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution. . . .  Jefferson was also not a member of the first U.S. Congress that wrote the Bill of Rights, either. . . .

The law clerks over in the U.S. Supreme Court should stop reading people's letters and re-read the U.S. Constitution itself.


Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink

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Good move on the campaign's part. A little slow on it, but better late than never.

Posted by: Warren Norred | Oct 29, 2010 6:20:48 AM

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