The Constitutional Ignorance of the Tea Party
It’s was funny when we saw Christine O’Donnell not know that the separation of church and state was in the Constitution. It was funny when she thought the audience was laughing with her and not at her. But the reality is not funny. The Tea Party’s high level of ignorance could help the Republicans take over Congress. It is truly a scary thought.
- 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.
In a recent Huffington Post article on Christine O’Donnell and the first amendment, Widener’s constitutional law professor Erin Daly stated
“that while there are questions about what counts as government promotion of religion, there is little debate over whether the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from making laws establishing religion.”
“She seemed genuinely surprised that the principle of separation of church and state derives from the First Amendment, and I think to many of us in the law school that was a surprise,” Daly said. “It’s one thing to not know the 17th Amendment or some of the others, but most Americans do know the basics of the First Amendment.”
However, O’Donnell is not alone in her lack of constitutional knowledge, Sharron Angle believes that she and Thomas Jefferson have been misquoted.
” Thomas Jefferson has been misquoted, like I’ve been misquoted, out of context. Thomas Jefferson was actually addressing a church and telling them through his address that there had been a wall of separation put up between the church and the state precisely to protect the church from being taken over by a state religion. That’s what they meant by that. They didn’t mean we couldn’t bring our values to the political forum.”
While the Constitution does not use the exact words “separation of church and state” which is the Tea Parties main argument Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association clearly used those word. And, Jefferson’s letter has held up in several Supreme Court cases as being attached to the First Amendment.
- The Supreme Court turned the spotlight on the “wall of separation” phrase in 1878 by declaring in Reynolds v. United States “that it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [first] amendment.”
So, here’s where Jefferson’s separation of church and state begins, with the Danbury Baptist Associations letter.
Danbury Baptist Association’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 7, 1801
“Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty — That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals — That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions — That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor..
What seems to be lost on the Tea Party brain drain, is that the Danbury Baptist Association was a religious minority and they were concerned that their believe would be taken over by the majority. Therefore, the association was writing to President Jefferson for clarity and confirmation that religion would not be ruled by the state. I’ll give Angel half credit for her statement however, her quote on Jefferson was not what he wrote in his response.
Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Tea Baggers would be surprised, if they read Jefferson’s documents at the Library of Congress. Jefferson’s motivation to the response was purely political and to ensures that the Republican Parties belief of separation of church and state were very clear. Funny how they don’t even know the history of their own party. Republicans were strong believers in the separation of church and state. But don’t tell the Tea Baggers cause they’ll tell you Lincoln founded the Republican party. By the way the Federalist who Jefferson was going after in the Danbury letter, were the religious right at the time.
“That Jefferson consulted two New England politicians about his messages indicated that he regarded his reply to the Danbury Baptists as a political letter, not as a dispassionate theoretical pronouncement on the relations between government and religion. His letter, he told Lincoln in his New Year’s Day note, was meant to gratify public opinion in Republican strongholds like Virginia, “being seasoned to the Southern taste only.”
“In his New Year’s note to Lincoln, 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 Statute Establishing Religious Freedom (1786) and from other, similar statements. To needle his political opponents, Jefferson paraphrased a passage, that “the legitimate powers of government extend 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 told Lincoln that he considered the articulation of his views on the subject, in messages like the Danbury Baptist letter, as ways to fix his supporters’ “political tenets.”
Lincoln is Attorney General Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts.
Angel’s further states an incorrect assumption. Stunning I know.
“They didn’t mean we couldn’t bring our values to the political forum.”
I think Angel, and the rest of the Tea Baggers would be shocked to learn that in his time Jefferson was considered faithless.
“To offer the nation’s hospitality to Paine, author of The Age of Reason, the “atheist’s bible” to the faithful, was, the Washington Federalist charged on Dec. 8, 1801, an “open and daring insult offered to the Christian religion.” Here, for the Federalists, was the same old Jefferson, the same old atheist. Political capital, they concluded, could still be made from sounding the alarm about presidential infidelity.”
Angel’s statement ‘bring our values to the political forum’ would make Jefferson roll in is grave since his values were not religious. After all he was called an atheist.
Stunning to think that Harry Reid can actually loose to Angel.
Another Tea Bagger genius is Ken Buck of Colorado. The scary thing about Buck is he was an Attorney General in Colorado and the Constitution eludes him. Colorado candidate Ken Buck, a year ago, stated that, “I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state.”
“It was not written into the Constitution,” Buck adds in the video, “While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that’s sanctioned by the government, it doesn’t mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion.”
WTF is he saying? Did Buck say we need a separation between government and religion which is “church and state,” or is he advocating a theocracy.
In an update to the Huffington Post Buck stated
Yes, we have separation of church and state. We don’t want a state-sponsored religion, but no it doesn’t mean that churches and government should never interact, and that wall that people are trying to form between the two and punish religion is something that I think has gone in the wrong direction, and I think what President Bush did with faith-based programs that worked with the government is exactly the right idea.
Well you can tell Buck didn’t paid a lot of attention to what went on in the Bush administration. The Bush faith-based programs were put together to push the Bush/Cheney agenda.
So there you have it the Tea Parties brightest. God help us if these people win.