Learn three useful words from Christine O’Donnell’s First Amendment controversy

Here’s the hullabaloo: The Democratic and Republican candidates for Senate in Delaware answered audience questions at a law school. At one point, Republican Christine O’Donnell challenged Democrat Chris Coons: “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” This question prompted surprise from the audience and scrutiny from the media.

Coons responded, “The First Amendment establishes a separation.”

O’Donnell countered with “The First Amendment does? … So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase ‘separation of church and state,’ is in the First Amendment?”

Reaction to these remarks reflects two possible interpretations:

  1. O’Donnell means that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not literally in the Constitution.
  2. O’Donnell wasn’t careful in her choice of words.

This semantic dilemma pinpoints a few words that may help you understand this election season.

If O’Donnell intended to point out that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not literally in the Constitution, then her statement is an example of originalism, “the belief that the United States Constitution should be interpreted in the way the authors originally intended it.” Her campaign issued a statement supporting an originalist intent for the remarks.

(In the spirit of precise definitions, do you really know the story behind why the actual Boston Tea Party protestors dumped tea in Boston Harbor? Explore the meaning of “Tea Party,” here.)

In the U.S., originalism (or strict constructionism) has become associated with political conservatives. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a well-known proponent of this view. When a politician rails against “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench,” you can surmise he or she is informed by an originalist stance.

Here’s the text of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “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.”

Many scholars (and judges) interpret this famous text to imply a separation of religion and government. If you read the amendment literally however, you may beg to differ. The root of “literal” is the Latin litteralis, “of or belonging to letters or writing.” Traditionally, a literal reading refers to what a text (often the Bible) says exactly, rather than its mystical or allegorical significance.

Some people may ascribe mystical value to Freudian slips, something said aloud that wasn’t necessarily meant to be . But what is the technical name for a slip of the tongue? Here’s your answer.


  1. JD -  February 24, 2012 - 9:49 am

    The phrase itself comes from a letter Written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Church, stating that “there must remain a wall of separation between church and state”.

  2. Parch -  November 8, 2010 - 5:29 am

    wow. the moderators here are really passive-agressive. leave a good post up for 2 or three days and delete it over the weekend. bravo.

    look up a text version of the constitution. press Ctrl-F to bring up the “find” tool. type “separation of church and state”.
    tell me what you find.
    here, i’ll help… you won’t find anything. it’s NOT THERE.

  3. iviegrace -  November 1, 2010 - 12:43 pm

    i think that what you said is good

  4. Waleno -  October 28, 2010 - 3:32 pm


    I replied to this already and it was up for a day but then it disappeared. your first argument is circular in that it relies on a preexisting belief. these things do not stand as testable evidence. There is no singular event that a hypothesis can be formed from resulting in testable/measurable evidence of an form of “god”. If there was that would be science. as it is a feeling of awe and wonderment does not work as a substitute.


    If this post gets deleted I will be upset. Christian apologist posts are not deleted by the moderator but I have had posts deleted and do not think it is fair.

    My previous post was better but I do not have the inclination to rewrite it.One last thing though. The variation in any particular belief’s definition between different peoples is sufficient to prevent them from being categorized as the same. We may call all languages “language” but they are not the same. Each of the people you mentioned had a conception of god that is seriously different from the premise you are defending.

  5. Nanner -  October 26, 2010 - 9:29 pm

    *Cough, cough*

  6. Nanner -  October 23, 2010 - 1:58 pm

    Touche’! You picked up exactly on the point I was making. That is if the teaching of intelligent design is banned from the classroom on the grounds that it is promoting a religious establishment, the teaching of the big bang is equally guilty of the same grounds. To claim otherwise in any way is a logical fallacy. Now, contrary to the final statement of my post, do I don’t actually believe teaching of big bang/evolution is unconstitutional. I was simply demonstrating the absurd by being absurd. I believe a ban on teaching EITHER theory is unconstitutional censorship. I see no inconsistencies with teaching about both so long as all are presented properly – as right theories that lack definitive reason to ignore other possibilities.
    And to clarify your question, there is no one specific religious institution that is the main supporter of intelligent design, it merely exists that most religions claim a god-head as a creator, and therefore ‘intelligent designer’ of the world. Though, not all intelligent design theories involve a godhead, as some believe the possibility of alien, or ‘life force’ designers. Religious folk are merely a subset of all those who entertain the possibility of intelligent deisgn.

    1. “Intelligent Design argument is creationism in a different pair of pants” No. By definition, Creationism is only a subset of intelligent deisgn, but intelligent design encompasses several possibilities that are NOT religious (alien origins).It’s equivalent of “All modern airline terror attempts have been perpetrated by male Muslims, therefore all Muslim males are terrorists and only Muslim males are terrorists” An absolutely absurd proposition. (Sorry I couldn’t resist the provocative example given the news this week!)
    2. “there is absolutely no scientific basis for a theory of Intelligent design.” DNA sequencing, the Krebbs cycle, The existence of electricity and gravity, along with our apparent lack of understanding to explain its existence yet in our modern wisdom. The very nature of matter and energy to interchange. The polarity that causes water to become less dense when it freezes (essential to life on earth). The evidence is more basic than many, but still present. The logical assumptions for the first explorers to set eyes on the Mayan Ruins was not, Wow – how amazing that such a wonder was formed by chance! It was – “wow, who the h#$@ put these here?” And that is a question that has been asked since the beginning of time: How can an organized, artful and necessarily intricate existence become of an environment dominated by entropy? Yes, obviously natural selection contributes to the evolution of life, but it does not adequately account for its beginnings.
    3. The existence of an Intelligent Designer is not considered merely by just us weak-minded, short-sighted buffoons who have no apparent understanding of scientific method – but also by weak-minded, short-sighted geniuses who also must also have total disregard for scientific method, yet discovered the equations that can accurately predict gravity, harness electricity, and illuminate the bulb dangling over what seems to me a somewhat unprecocious existence.
    4. The mindset which wishes to undermine religion by excluding intelligent design from curriculum is growing weaker and weaker, and obviously acting in desparation and gasping for what little reason yet exists to support it. I will let the readers of this thread to decide for themselves which of us has the narrow mind and lack of understanding fo the scientific method.If you don’t like the mention of Einstein, perhaps some others would suit you?
    Fred Hoyle (British astrophysicist): “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
    Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy): “I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.”
    Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist): “The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory.”
    Stephen Hawking (British astrophysicist): “Then we shall… be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”
    Antony Flew (Professor of Philosophy, former atheist, author, and debater) “It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”
    Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science.”
    In Optics, 1704, Newton wrote: “God in the beginning formed matter.”
    Regarding the Bible, Newton wrote: “The system of revealed truth which this Book contains is like that of the universe, concealed from common observation yet the labors of the centuries have established its Divine origin.”

  7. JRoy -  October 23, 2010 - 9:12 am

    I believe that people need to go back to the roots of why they put Separation of Church and State in the constitution. At that period in time, the English supported a specific religion, and priests of that religion had as much power as a government official. The Founding Fathers wanted to keep that from happening, so they wanted a separation of Church and State, but not as extreme as we have today. It pains me to know people who use BCE and CE. I believe that people need to stop making this more of a problem then the Founding Fathers made it.

  8. Waleno -  October 22, 2010 - 7:28 am


    You do not have a very good understanding of science. The Intelligent Design argument is creationism in a different pair of pants; still the same thing. More importantly, there is absolutely no scientific basis for a theory of Intelligent design.

    You say: “There is no more legitimate scientific acceptance of the big bang and millions of years of natural selection than there is of intelligent design.” Your statement is absurd. There is a lot of evidence for both the big bang and natural selection. You obviously don’t understand the place math holds in science or anything about logic.

    Over time scientists refine their theories based on empirical evidence. Intelligent Design apologists simply refine their arguments. That is how Intelligent Design came about; Creationists realized their arguments did not sound scientific enough. The main problem here is that they don’t have any science to back up their arguments and don’t bother evaluating the science in support of the scientific model. (I personally believe this is because they are afraid of conversion by their rational mind)

    On the scientific side of things, the only reason Intelligent Design proponents (ID’s) are still in this debate is because of the egalitarian stance most scientifically minded people take to an argument. This, in fact, characterizes the scientifically minded person. We bother to learn the position of the other person and realize their is some validity to what they feel if not what they say. We also try to keep an open mind to all possibilities in realization that all knowledge and understanding is fallible and that progress can only be made if we are willing to allow our assumptions to be tested. ID’s don’t bother to do any of this. what they argue and believe is not science and has no place in a classroom where science is taught.

    We will keep you technology going; your cellphone, your car, your TV and your Facebook are all possible through science. You just keep on with your wild unfounded speculation. It is a free country. But please, stop quoting Einstein, you soil his name.

  9. KyCavalier -  October 22, 2010 - 6:10 am

    One last thought…if you don’t want someone with moral religious convictions making sure you keep your rights in office; then what do you want? So, you are saying that I should keep my moral religious convictions from affecting my judgement when it comes to laws and running government? So, you want me to be a liar, cheat, adulterer, thief, murderer; those things directly affect government. If you don’t like that kind of person, which everyone complains about it every time you talk about government…then you are only getting what you are subconciously arguing for. To use Jefferson as the only one out of hundreds of founders as your example flies in the face of true scope of our history. If you can’t see how we, America, have been different than that of the rest of the world, then your relativism (religious thought) has affected your judgement. Which is what you are again, arguing against.

  10. KyCavalier -  October 22, 2010 - 6:01 am

    First of all Baptist Roger Williams, and you did not read it @Bruce, in his original “separation of church and state” specifically said that it is a one-way wall…the church affecting the state and not the other way around. You need to go back and reread Roger Williams again to see that he specifically stated that this wall, if not there, would taint the church…has it did in Europe and not the other way around. To state this arguement to say it was used to make the first secular state is rediculous. You people who want to use this phase as the other way a around. Civil unions, marriage laws other than one man and one woman, flies in the face of the “,<—comma or PROHIBITING the FREE exercise thereof." This means that I wouldn't be able to exercise my "free exercise there of" to say that I'm against it. So, civil union laws, gay marriage laws, me be able to stand on a street corner to preach, are laws that would effect my "free exercise thereof." Besides PROFESSORS OF POLITics ( I had everyone of you under the rug in college) history states specifically that our government used millions of laws to specifically advance religion, but not effect it…Virginia had a tax that went to the Anglican church until the 1830s, Kentucky passed laws to make public lands useable for churches, church services, etc. However, the Democrats of 1850 constitutional convention, as they do today, in KY left out preachers being able to hold office, why? So, they couldn't effect public opinion over slavery. The Northwest Ordinance specifically states that schools will be used to advance morals (Article III).

    Also, the President leaving out "endowed by their creator" in the last four speeches, is very important to note in this debate…THOSE WORDS were CHOOSEN VERY CAREFUlly by Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues to state that there is only ONE PLACE rights come from…this completely separated our founders from anyone else in the history of the world. In a secular evolutionist RELIGIOUS society those rights would come from fickle, depraved men…so as the 20th century taught us…those countries that went that way killed millions. Why? Because if rights came from whoever is in charge and not God, if you don't like what I say…you'll kill me. So, if you progressives want to use that as an arguement…why are you arguing? You are using your arguement against yourselves. If you want man to be in charge of your rights what does it matter to you who's in charge? OoooH….so it does matter doesn't it? Hedonism is what you want…that's cool…at least state it as your objective.

  11. Robert -  October 22, 2010 - 1:16 am

    Everyone is so damn literal they seem incapable of stringing together two clauses in a simple sentence. The three words are “The Federalist Papers.”

  12. Hoodaloo -  October 21, 2010 - 8:22 pm

    It is true that the phrase, “separation of church and state,” isn’t in the constitution. Now what…It seems we have many arguments which are simply concerned with the fact that that phrase doesn’t appear in the constitution. I’m not sure why it matters if it is or not.

    The rules for how congress shall make and pass laws IS in the constitution, however. Isn’t that all that matters?

    O’Donnell is technically right, but, if elected, I hope she follows the rules established by the constitution for making and passing laws.

    You said, “I will even go beyond this assertion to add that I in fact view the very prohibition of teaching intelligent design in public institutions as, itself, an unconstitutional law made in order to propagate the establishment of a religion…”

    I think I agree with you up to the point, “…in order to propagate the establishment of a religion…” Whether I agree with you here is really irrespective of the point that it appears – to me, at least – to be unconstitutional.

    It appears to be unconstitutional due to the grounds that prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design violates the clause of the first amendment that states: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Prohibition of the teaching of intelligent design would then seem to be the result of an unconstitutional law that demands one specific religion not to have the freedom to exercise their ideals, assuming intelligent design is derived from a specific religion (is it?). Anyways, this was just something that piqued my curiosity.

  13. Tom K -  October 21, 2010 - 3:58 pm

    “I think that is was Thomas Jefferson who came up with the concept of ‘Church and State’ separation.”

    Wrong. The idea went back a long way. Most of the founding fathers shared a distrust of religions, and of Christianity in particular. They had witnessed the nefarious role it played in European politics.

    Jefferson just expressed the idea more succinctly than anyone else. For example: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.”

    Thomas Paine wrote: “Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”

    John Adams: “The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”

    George Washington: “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated.”

    The Constitution is not a single document. It’s much more than that. The Constitution is a living body of law that addresses thousands of questions that the founders never dreamed of. Where, for example, do you find the Internet in the Constitution? Where are integrated schools and public facilities? Where do you look in the Constitution to find out whether waterboarding is torture? Or even that torture may be prohibited? Where does the Constitution give the government the authority to search airline passengers traveling from Sacramento to Los Angeles? Where does the Constitution say that the police may search your car?

    The notion that Constitutional questions can be decided without reference to subsequent court decisions, customs and practices is just ridiculous.

    Separation of church and state IS in the Constitution. It could not be more clear, both from their writings of the Founders and from the Constitution itself, that they feared theocracy. Not only does the First Amendment explicitly prohibit government support of any religion; not only does Article 6 prohibit any religious test for high office, but there is a huge body of Constitutional law that has built a firewall between religion and government. And that works both ways: government may not meddle in religious affairs; no church may stake a claim on any branch of our government.

    Would you really want it any other way?

  14. smartalek -  October 21, 2010 - 3:48 pm

    “the base of people who generally read this stuff is of the left and probably have their noses in the air when they pontificate.”
    Stan on October 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Not all the time, Stan.
    We only do that when talking to people who have demonstrated, by deed and/or by word (whether spoken, written, mis-spelled on signs or blog comments, or whatever) that they’re either ignorant of specific facts (and not interested in learning the facts), misinformed (ditto), or ineducable.
    Now, of course, that does imply that if a certain person *never* hears anything from a lefty without the lefty’s nose being in the air… well, I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for the reader, as they say.
    BTW, thanks for acknowledging that normal Americans are “of the left” (“the base of people who generally read this stuff”) and eager to learn new things — and it’s your side that are both out-of-the-mainstream and revel in your ignorance (since you clearly don’t “generally read this stuff” such as dictionary sites, etc). That’s a most unusual degree of honesty and self-awareness for a wingnut; there might be hope for you yet.

    “The Bill of Rights could not be issued today. It references ‘their creator’.”
    Dallas on October 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    No, it doesn’t.
    You’re thinking of the Declaration of Independence.
    However, we all thank you for giving us such a perfect example of the wingnut “thought” process (using the term loosely, of course) and mode of argumentation:

    “The words ‘separation of church and state’ don’t appear in the Constitution, but in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, so the US is a Christian Nation!
    “And the words ‘their creator’ don’t appear in the Constitution, but in the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, so the US is a Christian Nation!”

    And then you complain when normal Americans call you crazed…

    (Note to the general public: Oh, I’m being MEAN? UN-CIVIL? ELITIST, even? Sorry, my patience runs a bit short when dealing with people who tell me I’m literally going to hell because my politics match what our Lord Jesus Christ, told us in Matt 5:1-48, and not what Glenn Back said they should be.
    Ditto when I’m told I’m “un-American” when I stand for the Constitution as it was written, and not as interpreted by the pResidential administration that thought it was ok to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant BEFORE 9/11. Oh, you didn’t know W had tried to do that? That’s your “liberal media” for you. And if you didn’t know that, what else haven’t they been telling you, hmm?)

  15. Logician -  October 21, 2010 - 3:14 pm

    Isn’t it simply the case that while the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the First Amendment, the concept of separation of church and state is entailed by what is written there. The state, more precisely, the legislative branch, i.e. congress, can act only by establishing laws. If there were no separation of church and state, the latter could establish laws that either respect an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof. Thus, by claiming that Congress shall not make any such law, the First Amendment entails that there shall be a separation of church and state (I’m ignoring some modal niceties here).

  16. WALNUT -  October 21, 2010 - 2:46 pm


  17. Nanner -  October 21, 2010 - 2:18 pm

    @Political Theory Prof
    As a Christian Right Wing Wacko conservative-libertarian type, you may find encouragement in the fact that I agree with the premise of your first paragraph, that laws must be justified with reason that is not linked to religion. But what I do NOT agree with is this:

    “Any act of the public, whether it be teaching creationism or banning gay civil unions or marriage, is an act made in ‘respect to the establishment of [a] religion.’”
    Quite contrarily, most liberals assume that the teaching of intelligent design is equivalent to creationism. Creationism IS a religious teaching, which rightly has no place in public education because the ‘who’ and perhaps the ‘how’ answer to how the world came about is related to theology. However, Inteligent design is agnostic. It recognizes no specific god or creator. It only acknowledges the possibility that some being, alien or supernatural force created the universe in a purposeful manner.
    There is no more legitimate scientific acceptance of the big bang and millions of years of natural selection than there is of intelligent design. Most notably, Einstein himself acknowledged the following:
    Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.

    I will even go beyond this assertion to add that I in fact view the very prohibition of teaching intelligent design in public institutions as, itself, an unconstitutional law made in order to propagate the establishment of a religion – that being the religion of atheism, because the teaching that big bang/evolution is largely presented in schools as widely accepted scientific theory (as much as gravity for example) instead of merely one of a few possibilities. This has in the inherent effect of promoting the theology of the lack of existence of an intelligent designer and therefor, also of any monotheistic religion in favor of a humanistic religion.

    This site itself defines religion as such:
    “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

    Teaching that there is in fact NO intelligent designer of the world which has come about as a random result of an explosion, is inherently a teaching concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and therefor a religion. I move that this teaching be banned in public schools.

    Anyone else!?

    (I will address gay marriage in a later post…gotta run now!)

    Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

  18. It's not pronounced Eye-rack -  October 21, 2010 - 12:16 pm

    Liberal-bashers are missing the point.

    They are not the entirety of the population of the United States, no matter how much they wish they were. And not everyone shares their views concerning religion and worship.

    Religious oppression is undesireable. The Pilgrim Fathers, whose brave settling of this land made possible the founding of this great nation, came here to escape religious oppression.

    The Framers of the Constitution knew these two very important points, that not everyone (even then) shared the same religious views and that religious oppression is just plain bad.

    Any law regarding religion would be religious oppression — government officially opposing or supporting one religion over another, or requiring or restricting a religious observation regardless of what you want.

    On the other hand, what other point does a religion have in concerning itself with government other that to introduce legislation regarding itself and its views. And that would automatically make it religious oppression.

    That’s why there’s a separation, to prevent religious oppression. You know, religious oppression, that thing that makes the Taliban who they are. And Americans are nothing like the Taliban, right?

  19. Progressive in Texas -  October 21, 2010 - 11:52 am

    To Tom K. at 9:42 a.m.:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You did a lot to advance the substance of this discussion.

    I wish the same could be said for the vast majority of the posts in this forum.

  20. rusty nail -  October 21, 2010 - 11:43 am

    It somantically says it…

  21. Ron C -  October 21, 2010 - 11:35 am

    I think that is was Thomas Jefferson who came up with the concept of “Church and State” separation. In truth, the concept does not appear in the constitution or in the declaration of independence. None of the founding documents state this at all with the possible exception of Jefferson’s writings which alas, does not have the weight of “law”.
    It is nonetheless, a valid concept but for any political wannabe to think otherwise just illustrates how far removed from factual reality she or he is.

  22. Todd Martin -  October 21, 2010 - 11:30 am

    The constitution is not ‘agnostic’ and there is no ‘seperation of church and state’. We simply do not have an established state religion. More importantly, it does not prevent the FREE exercise thereof. You can still pray at football games and in the classroom. If you get your feelings hurt,,,well that’s part of living in a free society.

  23. Mike H -  October 21, 2010 - 11:28 am

    This is an obvious hit piece on O’Donnell. Coon’s was wrong about what the first amendment explicitly says, not what any of the various “interpretations” judicial or otherwise, say. It clearly does NOT specifically say anything about the separation of church and state.

  24. Mike -  October 21, 2010 - 11:26 am

    O’Donnell is 100% correct. This is one big reason why America is in a state of decline and government is failing the people; because this current administration and congress either does not know the constitution or chooses to ignore it just to push forth their bad agenda. Some of these Representatives and Senators have been in Washington D.C. for many years and still do not know the constitution. What a shame. Can’t wait to vote them out on November 2nd.

  25. Peej -  October 21, 2010 - 11:25 am

    At the time of the Constitution and Bill of Rights England had “established” the Church of England as the official state religion. The young USA desired to prevent such bias for any one religion. The Establishment Clause of the first amendment did just this. So, if the government can not “establish” a national religion then it is keeping itself “separate” from religion.

    Thank God for activist judges.

  26. Progressive in Texas -  October 21, 2010 - 11:17 am

    A quote from Skillet Fan at 9:31 a.m.: “However, that brings violence and athesim like it did during the French revolution.”

    This is an example of why rational discourse is frequently unachievable. It requires that the contributors think and speak rationally.

    It is not rational to conflate violence with atheism as this sentence implicitly does. The word “atheism” is in fact grossly out of place in this sentence. It seems you threw it in simply to be polemic.

    Please give some thought to your words before you speak. It will make this discussion more meaningful.

  27. Brian -  October 21, 2010 - 11:05 am

    @What Separation ???: Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

  28. Jim -  October 21, 2010 - 10:35 am

    There is no separation of church and state in the constitution and judges and justices maintained that conclusion for 150 years since the constitution was adopted. It was only until Liberals enacted the “legislation” from the bench of the US Supreme Court in 1947 that overturned centuries of precedent.

  29. FZ1999 -  October 21, 2010 - 10:25 am

    It’s hilarious that the audience of dictionary.com is almost as literate as any other website. Go America, you’re #1!

  30. Sandra Hawk -  October 21, 2010 - 9:57 am

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    I think the whole thing here hinges on “respecting an establishment of religion”. How is this clause to be understood?

    What would be a law “respecting an establishment of religion”?

    There are two qualifiers here that leave a lot of room for interpretation. “respecting” — with respect to — relating to — that’s very broad really. — How would you do that?? — Make no laws that relate to relgion or that interfere with anyone’s practise of it.

    And “establishment” — the raising, or building up of something on some kind of stable, secure and lasting footing. (This could be a state church — but that is not what it says. To restrict it to that meaning is to make a big assumption about the founders intent — one that more widely reading their writings seems to belie.)

    The how of abiding by what is said in the first amendment with respect to religion is where the wall comes in. If you can’t legislate anything in relationship to something, then it’s something that has to be somehow separate from law, and walls separate things.

    And if you can’t do anything to establish religion, government can’t design any mechanisms that priviledge one form of faith or non-faith over another.

    In effect government and religion are not to have anything to do with one another in any real sense. Religion is instead to belong to the citizenry and the power of the state is not to relate to it.

  31. Matthew -  October 21, 2010 - 9:55 am

    Great, a political agenda on a site I thought was strictly about words. Now this site is just like the rest of the internet. The three useful words from the First Amendment controversy? Tedious, banal, and annoying. Worst “Hot Word” ever.

  32. louis paiz -  October 21, 2010 - 9:52 am

    i am not going to insult my fellow americans because i am one american by choice , but it will be nice if people recognice all the freedoms we have here i recomend to them to travel and see how other people live in another contries and the kind of fredoms do they have such as freedom of religion,press,assamble do they have.here we are so free that because we are free we did not know what is to dont have neither one of them. thaks

  33. Tom K -  October 21, 2010 - 9:42 am


    1. You are right. The Constitution does not say to “keep religion out of government” (whatever that means). But it does say that government has no business making laws respecting (regarding) religion. That obviously includes policies and actions that pertain to religious beliefs, practices and institutions. The only possible implication of your phrase (K.R.O.O.G) is that government officials are entitled to believe what they wish and worship as they choose. But nobody is saying otherwise. They can pray (privately) all they like! But that does NOT mean that they use their positions to propagate religious beliefs and prohibit others from practices that are prohibited by their religion. In a nutshell, they are prohibited from any action that seeks to force their faith-based standards on the rest of us.

    2. You seem blind to nuance and implication. Are you being deliberately obtuse? Can’t you see how a placing a Ten Commandments plaque in a courthouse constitutes government endorsement of religious precepts? Especially keep in mind that three of the TCs (1-3) are purely religious in nature, and three more (4, 9, and 10) have no role in our Constitution or our legal system.

    3. Again, you are right that the Constitution does not grant the right to build a place of worship anywhere. But who is saying otherwise? The point is that the Constitution guarantees EQUAL TREATMENT UNDER THE LAW. That’s called the “rule of law,” Howard, and it means that no jurisdiction is allowed to prohibit one faith from doing something that other faiths are allowed to do. Again, you seem to be deliberately misunderstanding the argument in order to support your biases. NOBODY thinks anyone has the right to build a church anywhere anytime.

    4. If you read your long paragraph on same sex marriage again, I think you will see that it doesn’t make much sense. What are you trying to say? That marriage is against “the law of nature” if the couple does not intend to have children? Well, that makes it a “crime against nature” for a post-menopausal woman to marry. I cannot make heads or tails of all the stuff about fallibility (note spelling). You are obviously against same-sex marriage, but you don’t seem to know WHY you are against it, except for a passage in Leviticus that put homosexuality in the same category as having sex with a woman in her period. Both are “abominations” according to Lev. 18:29. Keep in mind that the Bible was written by fallible men. You have no proof of “divine inspiration,” and you have no moral right to force YOUR INTERPRETATION of “the law of nature” and a Bible verse on my gay friends down the street who want to get married. Live and LET LIVE, Howard.

    5. What is a “law of nature”? What expertise do you have regarding laws of nature? Are you a scientist? From your statement, it appears that you don’t know a law of nature from shoe polish.

    6. Do you really believe that my saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” is ruining this country? Do you really yearn for a country where ethnic slurs and jokes are “cool”; where good health care is regarded a luxury for the few; where the rich get richer and the poor pull their kids out of school to support the family? Do you really want a country where bullying homosexuals is acceptable behavior? Where the government promotes Christianity over other religions, and where kids of other faiths are ridiculed and get beat up after school?

    You need to think things over.

  34. #1 Skillet Fan -  October 21, 2010 - 9:31 am

    When the constitution was written, the reason behind the seperation of church and state was to keep the government out of the church- not to keep the church out of the government. On the contrary, in England they had long practiced the king being the head of the Anglican church. This caused a change in church document every time that a new king or queen was appointed. The original writters of the constitution saw this as a problem and therefore put that in the constitution. Liberals believe that since the government cannot run the church, then the church should not be involved in the government. However, that brings violence and athesim like it did during the French revolution.

    ~chick drummer~

  35. billy -  October 21, 2010 - 9:17 am

    R.E. Howard’s last comment about holiday etc.:
    Christian/government during the middle ages while wiping out all traces of indigineous culture changed all of the festival times practiced in Europe by the “evil pagans” to religious holidays. They did this in order to take over those cultural festivals and after many years they were successful. So in fact Howard when you say Merry christmas to someone you are saying happy holidays. Or if sticking to your view absent the facts and history you are truly saying “merry time of dominant religion has destroyed all culture that disagrees with it especially during a time when there was no separation of church and state.”

  36. vince -  October 21, 2010 - 9:16 am

    Regardless of the constitutional point (which O’Donnell is correct about – btw) the reason this has been made a “controversy” is because the Left is trying to portray O’Donnell in a negative light. They are trying to demonize her through mockery and ridicule.

    The ironic thing is that Coons is the ignorant one. He could not name the 5 Freedoms protected by the 1st Amendment. But, he is a liberal, so he is exempt from scrutiny.

    This is known as a double-standard…look it up at thesarus.com

  37. Cercatore -  October 21, 2010 - 9:09 am

    To Stan on Oct. 20 at 5:47 p.m.:

    You wrote: “The author is just attempting to play even-handed because, apparently, the base of people who generally read this stuff is of the left…”

    Did you really just say that the people who generally read this stuff (i.e. Dictionary.com) are on the left?

    You mean, it’s the folks on the left who are the ones generally becoming better educated?

    It’s about time someone on the right openly acknowledged that.
    That’s what we (on the left) call a lucid moment.

  38. Bob madoo -  October 21, 2010 - 8:50 am

    This website suck and you need a new job

  39. kae -  October 21, 2010 - 8:32 am

    “Some people may ascibe mystical value to Freudian slips, something said aloud that wasn’t necessarily meant to be . But what is the technical name for a slip of the tongue? Here’s your answer.”

    It looks like the last paragraph of this contentious article has a typo or mispelling. Ascibe is not in your dictionary here, so I’m guessing you meant ascribe. You might need spell check.

    “What are the three words?” Well, there is a link for “answer”, so might try clicking the link.

    Those people who are mad about the use of current events as a teachable moment need to chill the heck out. Would you prefer a reference instead to some idiotic celebrity and their wardrobe? Of course, the author did manage to capture a little comedic idiocy that I found amusing in this article anyway.

    As for the politics, I think it’s been TRADITIONALLY accepted (as in precedent) that the government of this country was not supposed to put into law a nationally mandated religion. It seems to me that the “conservatives” are looking for an activist judge or official of some sort to change that. So, do you teabaggers want activist politicians or not?

  40. Tony O. -  October 21, 2010 - 8:27 am

    The first amendment says we must all worship Buddah.

    This statement is no more of a stretch that reading “seperation of church and state” into the first amendment.

    I wish there was a “seperation of stupidity and state”.

  41. Bonzo the Banana Bandit -  October 21, 2010 - 8:25 am

    Sadly, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that a town that wants to place a Nativity scene on public property is equivalent to Congress passing a law establishing a national religion.

    The Federal Government has no business deciding what towns can’t put on their land! If the citizens don’t like it, they can vote out the people (town council and / or mayor) who made the decision! They can also ask that a display based on their own religion be added. And if you are an atheist and find such displays objectionable, TOO BAD. We live in a representative democracy. The majority rules and the minority can live with it or MOVE.

  42. Verdepro -  October 21, 2010 - 8:25 am

    So in O’Donnell response to Coons imply that the Bill of Rights is not part of the Constitution. Am i right Dictionary.com?

  43. The Fat Guy -  October 21, 2010 - 8:17 am

    Howard said, “The constitution says to keep government out of religion, but doesn’t say to keep religion out of government. Nowhere does it say that religion can not or should not be in government.”

    Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States says,
    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    It bears reapeating, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    Sorry Howard. I found this in the main body of the Constitution.

  44. bryan -  October 21, 2010 - 8:08 am

    The three words are originalism, literal, and parapraxis. It’s a language site, not a political forum.

  45. anon -  October 21, 2010 - 8:07 am


    “Let’s all remember that it is only a book, written by MEN, not Gods. Men who firmly believed earth was flat, the center of the universe, and only about 3000 years old (or so). These men also believed God created every creature ever to walk the earth at the same time, in the same place… so tell me, do you believe in dinosaurs? Or are they just a conspiracy to frustrate the faithful shepards and confuse the sheep?”

    Actually, none of the concepts you here attribute to the Bible writers are anywhere in the Bible. The Bible describes the earth as “circular”, which it certainly is, and some translators contend that the rendering should really be “spherical”. Geo-centrism certainly has no basis in the Bible. As for the age of the earth, there has been a long-standing debate in Christian theology over the interpretation of the 7-day creation account, so we can’t say for certain what the writer believed.

    As to your point on authorship (as opposed to writership), there’s a rather obvious fallacy in founding your argument on the very point up for debate. If the Jews, Christians, and Muslims with whom you are debating believed in a purely terrestrial origin for the sacred texts, they wouldn’t be Jews, Christians, or Muslims, and there would be no debate!

    Personally I do believe in dinosaurs, but I’ve always thought it terribly unimaginative of scientists to reject out-of-hand any notion of an archaeological conspiracy. If we accept the biblical hypothesis of a rebellious and duplicitous Satan, why would we assume that science and scientists are somehow immune to his manipulation?

  46. Kirk -  October 21, 2010 - 8:02 am

    @God of Biscuits: “Answer: it couldn’t. Congress either can empower a given religion or religions with the force of law and by corollary legally bar its citizens from practicing certain religions, or it must stay out of the game altogether. There is no middle ground on this point.”

    The middle ground is in the GOD you apparently do not believe in perhaps because your lap licker can’t speak. No God…No Peace; Know GOD…Know PEACE, just ask all the abortion law lovers.

  47. TiredofLiberalDrivel -  October 21, 2010 - 7:57 am

    I am so tired of Liberal Drivel! The Constitution does not contain the phrase “separation of church and state” because the founding fathers did not want it to! BUT the constitution of the former Soviet Union DOES contain the phrase in question! Socialist college professors and “Bearded Marxists” have twisted the constitution to support their intolerance and bigotry against Christians who are very much like those original folks who came to this country. The phrase in question is found in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend. Sooooo liberalS and socialists have taken that phrase and CAPITALIZED ON IT (how’s that for irony?!) and now have begun to attribute the phrase to the actual Constitution! What happened at Widener when the college students were shocked at COD’s question, “where is that(SOCAS) found in the constitution?” was that THE COLLEGE STUDENTS DID NOT KNOW THE PHRASE IS NOT FOUND IN THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION! Because of Marxist professors doing the job of BRAIN WASHING COLLEGE STUDENTS for so many years now we have a class of IGNORANT COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO GRADUATE WITH A DEGREE IN LIBERAL DRIVEL! If you read the history of the debates they had “back in the day” you will see they never intended to protect Government from Religion but instead they were trying to protect Religion from Government! The majority of the Founding Fathers were CHRISTIANS! I say “YOU GO GIRL!” to Christine O’Donnell thanks for standing up for truth against an onslaught of ignorance and Liberal Drivel!

  48. Waleno -  October 21, 2010 - 7:57 am

    I would first venture my guess on which of the many highlighted words were the intended three words: literally, originalism and hmmm…conservative? Okay, I don’t know.

    I had the privilege of studying the constitution for a few years. Like everyone I developed an opinion and a counter-opinion to go along with it. The counter was my way of interpreting opinions which were different from mine. It was full of bias and dishonesty. I would choose to take what someone with a different opinion said in a manner that was not true to what they intended because I understood the looseness inherent in the words they used. This is one reason we have courts.

    I think we understand more than we imply but when what we understand goes against what we want then we choose not to understand. Usually we then get angry because our vulnerabilities are in need of defense and some sort of aggression is an instinctual, biological way of defending ourselves when we feel attacked.

    An aside here, most of the founding fathers were not atheists as someone said earlier; they were deists. This means they believed in a higher power but, as is the case with Jefferson, not necessarily in a commonly held interpretation; which is the reason for the personal religious experience referenced by someone else in the earlier post.

    I think the stance of originalists is interesting. To imply there was only one way of interpreting something when it was written seems silly to begin with, to further imply that is how it should be interpreted now is ignorant and to imply that you are the person we should trust to do this interpreting is foolish. Of course, this could as easily apply to any situation where someone believes (or convinces others thus) that they are the one to tell us the meaning of some obscure text. It is often true those people have ulterior motives.

    It is unreasonable to expect others not to be informed and influenced by the personal beliefs but, otherwise, keeping religion and government as separate as possible seems like a good idea to me. Look around the world at nations dominated by specific religions and imagine yourself living under what you think of as a religious tyranny. Iran often looks like a scary place to us with their religious rule. A lot of people in other countries say the same about our country (the US). When I have traveled and talked with other people I have found that we are often viewed as a strict puritanical Christian nation.

    If our nation was a strictly Christian nation we would have the same degree of argument as we do now. No two people ever seem to agree about something when they have disparate interests. We would have various denominational disputes as the supposed issues when in truth it would be manipulative, unscrupulous people vying for power; as it is now.

    I think the constitution was written by those who framed it to meet two objectives, and this applies to each individual separately. First, they wanted to protect what was important to each of them as best as possible. These were their individual freedoms. Second, they wanted to establish a common ground between them. This is where compromise was the rule. Political acuity gave some advantage over others in meeting these two goals. Our arguments today are an extension of the arguments that went on then and are full of the same avarice and arrogance.

  49. VeggieTart -  October 21, 2010 - 7:57 am

    One problem with “originalism” or “strict constructionism” is that it forgets the fact that not only has this country changed vastly in the 200+ years since Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution, but that the English language has changed. You cannot interpret law in the 21st century with an 18th century mentality.

    Yes, it’s true that the Constitution does not explicitly state “separation of church and state”, although it does make clear that there shall be no religious test for office (Article VI, paragraph 3) and the First Amendment implies that there shall be a separation.

  50. Saf -  October 21, 2010 - 7:40 am


    It’s sort of heartbreaking watching people like you getting so worked up about things like this, believing *so hard* that you’re right, and that deep down, everyone must agree with you because they instinctually know what is Right and True (and it just happens to be your opinion, of course!).

    It seems that you’re trying to justify anti-gay sentiments while steering as far away from a Biblical argument as you know how to (which isn’t very far, but at least you tried). So, if you can just do two things for me, I will consider you a better person for having tried them:

    1. Re-read what you wrote. Ask yourself what any of that has to do with why two people in love shouldn’t be married. Pursuit of happiness is something that you want to be entitled to, isn’t it?

    2. Consider, just once, that you might be wrong. Now think about everything you’ve done and said to people in that context. How much unnecessary strife and suffering have you caused? Do you admit that there’s a chance you might be wrong? If not, then you are professing to be God. If so, then is it really worth the kind of trauma you inflict by raising people to believe that they are abominations, unloved by God?

    Don’t reply, just think about it.


  51. Amy-Lou -  October 21, 2010 - 7:37 am


  52. Josie -  October 21, 2010 - 7:30 am

    Is Dictionary.com now equivalent to the government’s website with all ‘healthcare’ facts that turned out to be, according to the President himself, myths? This is fabulous. Keep going with this strategy. It only brings out more in droves to vote against liberals and the Washington establishment. For such brilliant people, you are really are stupid.

  53. Amy-Lou -  October 21, 2010 - 7:21 am

    Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry: You maybe that is what you think but you shouldn’t be so rude to other peoples religions like that. It isn’t very nice and there isno need of you to say those things. MAY GOD BLESS YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAVE A NICE DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  54. John -  October 21, 2010 - 7:10 am

    So you’re saying that Coons and his liberal cohorts favor a “mystical” and “allegorical” interpretation of the constitution? I’ll agree. So why were they laughing at Christine O’Donnell when it’s Coons who has a fanciful view of the constitution? Doesn’t speak well for the university or the quality of their law students.

  55. Milton Almeida -  October 21, 2010 - 7:09 am

    However way one reads it, The Constitution idea was to protect RELIGION from the State, and not the opposite. If religion has gotten so influential so as to make people feel that there should be a law protecting them from it, then what religious people have done is exactly the contrary of what religion intends in that it could have become the oppressor. That does not change the fact that the State was the target as the possible oppressor that would use religion to exact its oppression and not religion or religious people. Today much is spoken about RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE, however this term TOLERANCE is also misused since TOLERANCE is something one is expected to dispense and not to DEMAND!
    People who want PROTECTION FROM religion DEMAND a tolerance that they are not prepared or plainly REJECT to dispense. Opposition against religion is nothing new, but generations come and go and religions, especially Christianity, continue to grow, flourish and, contrary to mockers, continue to exercise its influence in Western Culture and denying such influence is simply ignorance. Religious people should not be in awe of so much opposition to their position and beliefs and opponents of it should not expect it to go away any time soon; the opponents will pass away and religion will remain. Get over it!

  56. IntelegenceDoesExist -  October 21, 2010 - 6:04 am

    Yay for Mike and Elise and a couple of others. You DO know the truth as to why the 1st ammendment was created. For the rest of you, I guess you were high during government class. We can never have a complete seperation of church from state. If we did, Murder and theft would be legal as they’re origin comes from the bible. As far as same sex marriage… In the privacy of your own home you are free to do as you wish. Here is the issue I have with it. With same sex marriage comes insurance rights, the right to adopt, and other issues that I do not agree with or am willing to pay for(insurance). I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. If everyone was gay the human race would cease to exist. We are heterosexual in order to reproduce. If that is too much for your pea brain to understand then I feel sorry for you. Being gay is not a right to be mandated over me. It is a mockery of nature. I will tolerate it to a point but since I am not gay don’t cram it down my throat.

  57. Gini -  October 21, 2010 - 5:53 am

    @emily – So, now the founding fathers were atheist …. This is what happens when you get your history from internet or news media. Some, not most as often spouted, of the founding fathers were DEISTS!

  58. Jen -  October 21, 2010 - 5:23 am

    The best interpretation of the First Amendment is the one made by the authors – James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (the latter of whom was instrumental in inspiring and promoting it).

    “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.” James Madison, Detached Memoranda

    “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.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Danbury Baptists

    As you can see from the above quotes, both men specifically interpreted the Constitution itself as setting up a separation of church and state. Considering that they are the ones most involved in the development and passage of the First Amendment, I’d say that it’s a very solid interpretation.

  59. Ian -  October 21, 2010 - 5:16 am

    Since the founders were (a) intelligent enough to know they could not predict the future and (b) intended to establish an enduring constitution that would be difficult to amend, isn’t it probable that their intention was that the Constitution should be interpreted as a living document, so as to take account of social, legal and economic changes?

  60. Jeff -  October 21, 2010 - 4:16 am

    Anyone who thinks Christine O’Donnell got it right is dumber than she is. She clearly had no idea what the definition of the 1st Amendment is. She had such a look of surprise on her face that there’s no other way to interpret her meaning. If anyone is revising history, it’s her campaign manager’s pathetic excuse of a reply to this situation and the illiterate tea party racists who support that notion. Her inclusion in the discussion regarding U.S. politics is an insult and an embarrassment. She’s a lying thief who is looking to do nothing more than embezzle from her campaign contributions, as she has for years.

  61. Jordan Vela -  October 21, 2010 - 3:10 am

    Adjectives: MYSTICAL, ORIGINALIST, and ALLEGORICAL – Three ‘Secret’ Words Our Blog Decodes

    _Personally, these terms are all uniquely those that I could NOT define, with only the small exception of having considered ‘allegorical’ to be confined within artistic contexts. So, with that said, these are (by chance?) my three learned words. Also, after my discovery of each precise definition and then setting them side by side, they reveal the one-dimensionality in the fashion of constitutional interpretations (ie, each word plays the same impressionistic instrument, only differing in tone). This blog leaves you to find for yourself: “On a thin strip of blended paint, ranging from yellow to violet (not necessarily in that order), then where do you aim your eyes?”

    _I must admit that the definitions of ‘politics’ and that of each ‘party’ still elude me. For, they are far too complex for any dictionary to define them. The blog does; however, provide you with a legend for each color. By the way, 1 part violet + 1 part yellow = pitch black (ideally). That, of course, would represent the ‘originalist’ idealism.

  62. Frank -  October 21, 2010 - 12:29 am

    The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.
    -James Madison

  63. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  October 21, 2010 - 12:20 am


    The point is–

    The Constitution declared a ‘hands-off’ on religion (organized religion) but did not require an equal measure from ‘religion’– So, Does exercise of religion, involve or imply a separation of Church and State, or not?!

    This is not a moot point…

    Religion or its practice is the ignorance or best-guess of the original state of man commonly-expressed taken as an opportunity to pointificate or spiritualize mankind’s perception or thought about reality…

    I.e. The real gods were men and women who lived 10× or 100× longer, each, than common man-kind… so they were better respected but had all the same problems mankind had so they were dramaticists for the purpose of civilizing mankind… They were murderers from the beginning but pretended to return to life by using materialistic-science methods: which they could get-away-with because the common mankind was ignorant.


    (And that parenthetical note on the prior was intended humor in that by inference, someone-else had shelved it as ‘the-blind-versus-the-blind’.)

  64. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  October 20, 2010 - 11:35 pm


    Interpretation is a ‘funny’ thing–

    Back in the ’20′s (that’s 1920′s these day) the Christian Science Church went to Court between its two Board of Directors (Church v. Publication) over which board had authority to act independently …

    The Master Judge decided ‘essentially’ in favor of the Publication, but the decision by the panel of Judges ruled in favor of the Church… You can guess who won.

    But the point is–

    ANOTHER WORD: “FINAL AUTHORITY.” (okay, two words, one phrase)


    (And on an historical note, I learned of this by selecting a Braille edition of Rudimental Divine Science, at UNR University of Nevada, Reno.)

  65. Francisco -  October 20, 2010 - 10:56 pm

    @Howard You try to sound as if you are in favour of same-sex marriage, then you say homosexuality is an abomination and criticise people who (you imagine) pretend to support this equality just to be politically correct! As to the laws of nature, snails have both sexes simultaneously, some frogs and fish change from one sex to the other (in one species of fish, each individual changes several times) and very many life forms reproduce by non-sexual means. Evidently, nature doesn’t care very much about sex. Plus, humans are characterised by culture, which means our behaviour is not controlled by instinct, which is the psychical expression of nature. By the way, I’m straight. I stand up for gay rights simply because I know it is the right thing to do.

  66. Alan Turner -  October 20, 2010 - 10:38 pm

    Religion is for anyone, choose which one you want but The Constitution and the law are for everyone……………and never the twain shall meet.

  67. alorah -  October 20, 2010 - 10:22 pm


  68. Emily S. -  October 20, 2010 - 10:00 pm

    I am so tired of right wing Tea Partying whackjobs insisting upon Constitutionally irrelevant texts like the Bible. I commend dictionary.com on this straightforward, unbiased article that spells out in plain (or apparently NOT so plain, to certain conservatives) text precisely what this amendment intends. Definitions are definitions.

    And to all of those proponents of “originalism” touting THAT tiresome drivel: for your apparently lacking information, the majority of the Founding Fathers were atheist in philosophy and abhored the idea of a nation governed by blind faith rather than due reason. You’re not the first batch of crazies to bastardize the American Revolution as part of your own contrived, fabricated version of history. America is a wonderful country, but the perfect America of your lore never existed.

  69. Fun Fact -  October 20, 2010 - 9:41 pm

    @kap — Be careful, the argument that the First Amendment is the most important because it is first is perilous. In order, there were actually two amendments before it that simply failed to be ratified, one regarding Congressional size and the other regarding Congressional compensation. I think it would be hard to convince most people that Congressional salaries are more important than any of the proceeding Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

  70. Howard -  October 20, 2010 - 9:00 pm

    The constitution says to keep government out of religion, but doesn’t say to keep religion out of government. Nowhere does it say that religion can not or should not be in government. This, to me doesn’t sound like a separation at all, but a guide of a one way road; you cannot travel down this road in this direction ( keep government out of religion meaning the government cannot establish a religion for the country) but you can travel up this road in this direction ( religion can be in government, meaning any religion or pray can be said in any branch of government and any signs of religion can be in government).
    We also have to remember that even though it allows us to practice any religion we want freely, it doesn’t empower us to build a place of service where we want. That isn’t in the constitution.
    Now to the bible. I don’t care what bible or religion or nonreligion you have, the majority law of nature dictates to continue its life on this planet you have to have a male and female to procreate. Not a male and male or female and female. What is right is right. The word or law of man (or woman) is falable as to where the word of law of nature (or God) is infalable. Just because we (some people) think two people of the same sex should get married because they love each other is ok, that is falable even if they don’t want to procreate (by means of science or donars) There is a law of nature that provides balance for this and no human can change that balance even if they “love their same sex partner” it is simply an abomination as it says in the bible.
    This is the primary reason why this country is going to hell, because everyone is so wanting to be “politically correct” that we disregard what is truly right. We know deep down inside what is right and wrong, but becuase we are so scare to “offend” someone, we let those that are wrong continue to gain ground and preaching what is wrong to everyone else until what is wrong is taught to be the right. We have to stop the insanity and get back to right it right and wrong is wrong. If it is the Christmas season, I will say “Merry Christmas” not “happy holidays”, its a “Chirstmas Tree” not a “holiday tree.” Try telling a Jew that it isn’t a manora but a “holiday candle holder. Everyone is so caught up in this “change” that the change is ruining this country that is what the real change is, going from what is real and true and changing this country into a bunch of panzies hanging around mamby pamby land and smelling the pretty flowers and saying “you can’t yell at me” or “you can’t be hateful, that would be a hate crime.” What have we let this country become people?

  71. Cesar Hechler -  October 20, 2010 - 8:37 pm

    Yeah, brilliant G. Talan – you’re going to impose religious doctrine on people? That’s exactly why the interpretation is of a separation of church and state, so people like you get nowhere near the capability of creating a theocracy.

  72. Greg Waddell -  October 20, 2010 - 8:36 pm

    I have not read all the comments, so I apologize if this has already been said, but as I read the first amendment “literally,” it seems to me to prohibiting the government from limiting my religious expression in public places, including schools, public parks (whether owned by the government or not), and other such places. It does not protect people from being “offended” by my religious expression.

  73. PFMinTN -  October 20, 2010 - 8:21 pm

    Jefferson didn’t have a thing to do with the Constitution, wasn’t in the country at the time… Of the 90+ founding fathers who did, they all practiced a “religion” in some fashion or form.

    After Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists, he attended services IN THE CAPITOL BUILDING.
    Read your history please…

  74. Paul -  October 20, 2010 - 8:20 pm

    Hey, dictionary.com, in the last paragraph of your article on O’Donnell, there was a word I was not familiar with so I went and looked it up at http://www.dictionary.com and got “No results found for…, did you mean…” :)

    Sorry! Had to get that out.

    Now, aren’t we all just a bunch of mental masturbators spewing our opinions wherever!

    Well, here’s mine.

    @God of Biscuits – Thank you for reminding us of the Federalist Papers. What we know as the First Amendment, whether revered or not, was most likely a compromise reached by a group of politicians; a different class of politicians than we have today, but nonetheless, politicians. These writings may provide us with insight as to whether or not these politicians intended for the Constitution to be loosely, or strictly construed.

    @Henry D – I appreciate your vast knowledge of the Bible, but this discussion is about the Constitution.

  75. Emilia -  October 20, 2010 - 7:56 pm

    Titte B ooB, you misquoted Thomas Jefferson–who, by the way, allotted money to evangelize American Indians when he was President. He was responding to a letter sent to him by the Danbury Baptists, who were afraid the US had chosen a specific Christian denomination to be the “national religion”. Here’s the whole thing, and it makes a huge difference to, disingenuously, pick just one part of it:
    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and 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 and State.”
    I find it quite entertaining that Liberals, the first ones to defend the right of Muslims to slaughter Christians, easily dismiss the fact that most Founding Fathers were actively religious. For example, the 1st Bible printed in America was printed by the US Congress and “for the use of our schools”! In 1830 Congress commissioned four paintings representing the Christian history of the US; they are in the Congress hall, if I am not mistaken. In the same hall, in the early 1800′s, church services were held.on Sundays. When Jefferson became President he attended services there and commanded the Marine Band to play. By 1857 2,000 people attended these services and 5 churches actually met there. Talk about “separation of church and state”! How many of you writing posts or reading knew, for example, that President James Garfield was a minister?! I could go on and on, but I guess you get my point–or maybe not! You Americans should be ashamed of your ignorance! To have a foreigner–me–teaching you the meaning of your own Constitution and the wonderful men who created it! But, again, you have been ignorant of it for so long you don’t even realize you’re disrespecting it…

  76. Political Theory Prof -  October 20, 2010 - 7:45 pm

    It has been mentioned previous in this forum, but it deserves repeating when added to the following texts I will quote. Any act of the public, whether it be teaching creationism or banning gay civil unions or marriage, is an act made in “respect to the establishment of [a] religion.” The establishment of a religion concept does not mean only that the government, federal and state (by virtue of selective incorporation and the 14th amendment), can not establish a national religion or church (ie “the church of the US”), but also that governing acts must be reasoned without respect to religion. It does not matter that 85% of the US is christian. We have governing principles established in the constitution to prevent the tyranny of the majority (james madison’s words from the federalist #10). Afterall, there is a reason why the constitution outlines specifically that congress shall promote science (article 1, section 8) and no where mentions the establishment of law based upon religion.

    Furthermore, as far as the Founder’s Intent argument goes, the “father of the Constitution” (James Madison) states as follows: As a guide to expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution , the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character.” While that may harm the effectiveness of my previous lines of argument, it does shine some light on a simple question: who are the founders? The men that were present at the constitution convention? Their wives with whom they corresponded during the convention (I specifically refer to Abigail Adams here)? Those that argued for and eventually signed the Dec. of Independence? Are the anti-Federalists founders? Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, and even Nixon (amongst other presidents, senators, justices and philosophers) have made substantial impacts on the American political process, political thinking and law…are they not “founders”
    of some sort?

    We all come to this website because we are curious individuals. It is pointless to defend O’Donnell with partisan rigor. She is wrong and it is because she never studied or cared about the world outside of the her church. The wall of separation between church and state has been the understanding of the first amendment for 220 years…wouldn’t then a conservative, who is supposedly a defender of tradition, support such an idea? Yes it is an idea born from liberalism, but since when has blind faith in anything lead to just outcomes?

  77. Tom -  October 20, 2010 - 7:41 pm

    “I find this interesting that a website, seemingly neutral, would even post this.”

    “I just erased your biased and rivisionist service.”

    I’m going to save a link to this page. If ever there was a good example of how polarized some people are now in the US, this is it. Mention any of a range of magic ‘words’ (ooo, is this a website about words?) and people stop reading/hearing/understanding and start spewing. They have made themselves incapable of discussion, since they refuse to hear. Neutrality goes over their heads, since they are hunkered down in their trenches.

    I have re-read the article, and again. I see nothing in the way of a viewpoint, but rather a current event used to launch a discussion of some words, like “originalism”.

  78. Dallas -  October 20, 2010 - 7:34 pm

    The amendment specifies five freedoms; of religion, of speech, of the press, to assemble and to petition. The Bill of Rights could not be issued today. It references “their creator”. If there is no recognition or involvement then shouldn’t churches be paying property taxes? Also your donations to your church are no longer tax deductible.

  79. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  October 20, 2010 - 7:07 pm

    But then again– What the USA federal doesn’t do, is left to the States; (And what the States don’t do, is left to the local governments and the People).

    So, That’s two questions: They were running for a Delaware State Office– and the federal Constitution thereto separates Church and United-States.

    What most people do not understand, is, that, the Constitution is constitutional: words are understood constitutionally: e.g. one must define “religion” in order to make such a constitutional statement: unless the words are already understood– constitutionally. (Similar trouble with marriage, in many States).


  80. EdgeOfDark -  October 20, 2010 - 6:59 pm

    Well, I can certainly say one thing …

    I have no clue what the ‘Three Words’ are. Congratulations, Dictionary.com!

    As far as the debate between Church and State …

    People are Stupid. Just read the words. Stop trying to make everything complicated in the pursuit of sounding Cerebral, Intelligent, and Superior. I admit that’s typically a Liberal characteristic, but Conservatives have their buttwipes too.

    Thank you precious God for Science, otherwise, I’d have no Faith in anything!

  81. Allie M. -  October 20, 2010 - 6:50 pm

    Oops! Either was a typo!

  82. Allie M. -  October 20, 2010 - 6:46 pm

    If we want to take every word of the Constitution literally, the 2nd amendment either states that we all have the right to own a pair of arms that once belonged to a bear. Just food for thought…

  83. Iamaprogressive -  October 20, 2010 - 6:44 pm

    It is funny how the right wing nuts call judges who interpret the constitution the right way “activits”, but when the Ultra-right-judges ignore the law and /or favors Corporations they are not call ACTIVITS. But the right wing-nuts are right not to call the Right wing judges activits because these are CORPORATE judges, (just another banch of the Powerful few), and the republicans don’t even know it, it is sad, very sad.

  84. Hoodaloo -  October 20, 2010 - 6:24 pm

    Umm, where did my last comment go? :(

  85. Freeg -  October 20, 2010 - 6:15 pm

    With all due respect. Christine O’Donnell was challenging her opponent because he like most in America do not realize that the phrase, “separation of church and state” does not exist in the U.S. Constitution. It is actually from a letter penned by Thomas Jefferson to Christians of the Anabaptist Denomination. They were worried that they would have to join a “National Church” much like Great Britain required with the Church of England in the colonies.

    You can find the phrase “separation of church and state” in a constitution, it is the old Soviet Union’s Constitution. Separation of Church and State is a Communist ideal. America’s founders never intended that the Constitution’s unwritten foundation of the Bible would ever be removed from America’s civil life. They frequently cited John Locke and his political philosophy that Civil laws should never violate the laws of the Sacred Scriptures. Check out John Locke’s book THE REASONABLENESS OF CHRISTIANITY, published in 1696.

  86. suggestion -  October 20, 2010 - 6:11 pm

    What you think and do is your calling, so contemplate a reason behind it later, which would sound reasonalbe for now.

  87. Hoodaloo -  October 20, 2010 - 5:50 pm

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

    If the word “establishment” is taken as a noun, then this means that congress cannot, constitutionally, enact any laws that would affect or be effected by any particular religion.

    If the word “establishment” is taken as a verb – ah, now I come to a quandry. I guess I don’t care if congress establishes a religion that all the senators and representatives want to be a part of as long as they don’t create laws that affect or are effected by said religion. That’s a literal interpretation (oxymoron?).

    A loose interpretation of “establishment” taken as verb might be thus: Congress cannot, constitutionally, enact any laws that would establish a national religion: a religion that is preeminent among other religions, and has influence on the workings of government.

    “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

    If congress enacted a law that was effected by one religion, being such that that law would have to be obeyed by all citizens of every religion of the United States, then that law would indeed affect every religion, thereby prohibiting the free exercise of those religions; those religions, thusly, being forced to follow a religious practice of one particular religion. Therefore, the law would be unconstitutional.

    In conclusion, this appears to be sufficient mortar and brick for the erection of a wall separating church from state, if, in fact, the state wishes to remain constitutional.

    *Please note the difference in the words “affect,” and “effect.” I did not use those words interchangeably.

  88. Stan -  October 20, 2010 - 5:47 pm

    Come on, dictionary.com, the author of the piece did not make the case for the second interpretation of O’Donnell, just the first. O’Donnell was in a debate and tried to show that Coons was not really all that smart or educated. Coons did not know the phrase from the Constitution, but from popular usage because, like most on the left, they know less than they let on. She was smart enough to acknowledge the difference between “separation of church and state,” a phrase not in the Constitution, and the actual constitutional phrasing of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” If Coons answers to the affirmative of the phrase being included or does not know, then O’Donnell makes her point. Who then is the buffoon? The author is just attempting to play even-handed because, apparently, the base of people who generally read this stuff is of the left and probably have their noses in the air when they pontificate.

  89. What Separation ??? -  October 20, 2010 - 5:26 pm

    Other countries have a much better version of this separation idea in their constitutions which includes the freedom to not practice a religion. It is barely implied in ours. Freedom from religion is another freedom other countries enjoy more than we do. In this country the 1st amendment is merely a speed bump. There is still forced prayer, sometimes under the guise of “a moment of silence”. There is a government agency “Faith Based Initiatives” Which prefers one or two religions. Our money says ” In God We Trust” Three months of “Holiday” forced time off etc, what holiday on our calendar is not religious? 2010, right. . . On and on, you simply can not get away from it. These religious groups have been insidious in infiltrating the government to change laws in their favor to get lucrative contracts for their cronies. Google Cst. This preferential treatment includes a tax free status among many other preferential treatments offered by the federal, state and local governments. If only we did have a separation of church and state.

  90. Cyberquill -  October 20, 2010 - 5:08 pm

    Originalism, as Justice Scalia subscribes to it, refers not so much to what the authors of the Constitution intended, but what the words they used generally would have been understood to mean at the time a particular clause or amendment was composed. In this sense, originalism is distinct from “original intent.”

  91. Titte B ooB -  October 20, 2010 - 5:01 pm

    For those wondering what the “three useful words” are… two of them are literal and interpretation. For the third, your guess is as good as mine, though I would guess hullabaloo.

    Some amusing quotes I found regarding separation of church and state:

    “Now the Utah Territory is virtually under the theocratic government of the Mormon Church. The union of church and state is complete. The result is the usual one, the usurpation or absorption of all temporal authority and power by the church. Polygamy and every other evil sanctioned by the church is safe. To destroy the temporal power of the Mormon Church is the end in view…. Mormonism as a sectarian idea is nothing, but as a system of government it is our duty to deal with it as an enemy to our institutions, and its supporters and leaders as criminals. ”

    Rutherford B. Hayes

    “The legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, … thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

    Thomas Jefferson

    “…the separation of church and state means separation—absolute and eternal—or it means nothing”

    Agnes E. Meyer

  92. Mike -  October 20, 2010 - 4:44 pm

    Actually Joe, it is the Country that is not allowed to play a part in how religion is run. It is to be a separation of church from state. The reasoning behind was largely due to religious persecution of the Church of England – the State sponsored religion – that chased the Puritans out of England. It was a desire to avoid any possible repeats. So I have no problem with the 1st Amendment secure the rights of Americans to worship as they please – as is their Constitutional Right. And for the most part we do pretty well. It seems in recent times, however, that if you are Christian, it is an automatic detention, but if you belong to the 14-15%minority of other-than-Christian faiths, you get a freehall pass. So I don’t get that. Why does my child have to watch a video about same-sex parents, to explain how they engage in coitus, but is censored when he makes an angel for the ‘Holiday’ Tree (true story BTW)?

    Finally, while I am fine with keeping the government out of religion, it is unreasonable to prohibit someone from being religious when the talk turns political. Different animal all together. Peace †

  93. Larry B. -  October 20, 2010 - 4:30 pm

    From U.S. Constitution on line: [notice the description "SHORT HAND" in the last sentence].

    Thomas Jefferson was a man of deep religious conviction — his conviction was that religion was a very personal matter, one which the government had no business getting involved in. He was vilified by his political opponents for his role in the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and for his criticism of such biblical events as the Great Flood and the theological age of the Earth. As president, he discontinued the practice started by his predecessors George Washington and John Adams of proclaiming days of fasting and thanksgiving. He was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state.

    Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801. A copy of the Danbury letter is available here. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature — as “favors granted.” Jefferson’s reply did not address their concerns about problems with state establishment of religion — only of establishment on the national level. The letter contains the phrase “wall of separation between church and state,” which led to the short-hand for the Establishment Clause that we use today: “Separation of church and state.”

  94. Elise -  October 20, 2010 - 4:14 pm

    I find this debate rather funny. Why was it the Pilgrims crossed the ocean to this great land? Oh, that’s right. They were fleeing religious persecution and wanted to freely worship the way they wanted to worship without interference from any higher powers that be (government, monarchy, etc etc). Then it was Thomas Jefferson that said, “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”. Last, but not least, you want to start messing with breaking down that wall, who is to decide what religion the government should impose upon us citizens? If it was up to Ms. O’Donnell it could possible turn out to be “One nation, under Wicca.” Hmmm…..

  95. VoiceOf Reason -  October 20, 2010 - 4:13 pm

    Hen D, with your limited spelling capability you really should keep a dictionary around.
    And yeah, I too wonder what the three words are.

  96. Gary Gunn -  October 20, 2010 - 4:08 pm

    A new discovery that is actual written without bias! Congratulations guys, you have made a new friend. Excellent word explanations and usage breakdowns; sorry reheannon, but good catch…I couldn’t find them either. Henry D (who will probably never see this) “CHILL DUDE!” In context, the Bible was a perfect choice for a traditional literal read. I do take issue with the subtle devaluation of the word “allegorical.” Certainly Christ was being allegorical when he said he would rebuild the temple (Himself) in 3 days (John 2:19). His reference was to His resurrection 3 days after He was crucified. I’m bias and confess it!

  97. Ruthie -  October 20, 2010 - 4:01 pm

    ooops – meant “proven to be loosely interpreted only if the statement has no other possible meanings.” …..Congress shal make no law …” , means just that. how can it be otherwise interpreted?

    I left off the “e” in local, and it should read “locale” in Connecticut. Sorry for the errors.

  98. Ruthie -  October 20, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Henry D. – what prompted the remark, “you mentione the Bible, you might try reading it sometime”. What is the connection? What did nyone say that is un-Biblical?

    I have been taught to take things literally until proven to be loosely interpreted. One can easily read anything they please into any text to please himself. Therefore, for accuracy sake, the text should first be taken literally. Also, the statement about separation of church and state was given to a church in Connecticut,I believe, and had to do with that local, not the Constitution. Therefore, it is an intepretation that is not to be applied to the First Ammendment. Take that Ammendment as interpetive, then do the same with all. Then where are we?

  99. C. Thomas -  October 20, 2010 - 3:43 pm

    To: rheannon… I think the three words either are not or do not need to be specified. There are several words highlighted, so I think the objective here is to pick three and learn the meanings of them.

  100. Rick -  October 20, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    Woah, this is a politists website, now? ENOUGH dictionarycom, of your Hatred for the CONSTITUTION LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.

  101. jonnyBgangsta -  October 20, 2010 - 3:39 pm

    hey guys heres’ a fun fact did you know the constitution was written on a piece horse hide?
    thats’ what they used for paper back then ain’t that cool??

  102. kap -  October 20, 2010 - 3:38 pm

    @ Henry D. The “separation of church and state” is a modern way of saying “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” they are the same. It’s a smaller sentance that means the same thing. How far this is taken is a subjective matter that Americans can dissagree on, but the principle is solid, and in my opinion, it is one of the greatest concepts ever solidified in a governing body (GO AMERICA!!!). I might also remind you some of our forefathers, most notably Thomas Jefferson, were anti-organized religion, which is why this amendment was FIRST!!!

    Also, FYI, I have read more of the bible than most of the people I know (including many self proclaimed Christians), and I have to say, it is a great book. But that is all it is, A BOOK. Let’s all remember that it is only a book, written by MEN, not Gods. Men who firmly believed earth was flat, the center of the universe, and only about 3000 years old (or so). These men also believed God created every creature ever to walk the earth at the same time, in the same place… so tell me, do you believe in dinosaurs? Or are they just a conspiracy to frustrate the faithful shepards and confuse the sheep?

  103. Joe -  October 20, 2010 - 3:36 pm

    Religion is not permitted to play any part in how the country is run. Period.

  104. Cymast -  October 20, 2010 - 3:32 pm

    There’s nothing “mystical” or “allegorical” about the Constitution, including its amendments.

  105. AJ -  October 20, 2010 - 3:30 pm

    And while youre rreading the Bible, read the Book of Mormon as well. Theres some pretty interesting stuff in it.

  106. Lloyd Johnson -  October 20, 2010 - 3:29 pm

    At the time the constitution was ratified, several states had state endorsed religions. The first amendment was just to make sure the federal government did not require citizens to join a federally mandated church. Seperation of church and state was mentioned in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, but it is not in the constitution. O’Donnel was absolutely correct.

  107. jesse -  October 20, 2010 - 3:22 pm

    “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.”

    I always believed this meant that no law regarding any religion can be made. Therefore, no belief which was established using a specific religion can be turned into law. Doing so would break the First Amendment by prohibiting other religions and non-religions from practicing their beliefs unmolested. Example: Making Civil Unions(or whatever they’re called these days) illegal is unconstitutional. The major argument on the side of keeping it illegal in most states seems to be marriage is between a man and a woman according to The Bible. There are people who have read and follow the same book that believe it should be legal. That difference in religious opinion be it Catholic vs Methodist, Jewish vs Protestant, or Muslim vs Atheist is the point I’m making. You can not make a law based on religious belief without breaking the First Amendment and disrespecting one religion(or lack of religion) or another.

  108. Daniel Leisy -  October 20, 2010 - 3:17 pm

    I find this interesting that a website, seemingly neutral, would even post this. When we read the Bill of Rights it is clearly not intended to create a separation but to state that the government is not to create laws regarding religious establishments.

    I completely agree with Bayleaf in his/her point. How can one even discuss “literal vs. implied” difference in the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [church or gathering for example; establishment is can be both verb and noun here], or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “?

  109. Lynne -  October 20, 2010 - 3:11 pm

    @Henry-You might try reading it in the original Language, you might be surprised how Wrong Christine O’Donnell and so many others, are.

  110. God of Biscuits -  October 20, 2010 - 3:01 pm

    David E., no, that’s not “all it says”. It also says that the government can’t prevent you from practicing your own religion.

    Convenient in these times to want to sweep that one under the rug, isn’t it?

  111. God of Biscuits -  October 20, 2010 - 2:59 pm

    Three more words for Christine O’Donnell, at the risk of making her head explode and having the whole debate look like a kid’s show on Nickelodeon Channel where someone gets slimed: The Federalist Papers.

    Whether your interpretation of the First Amendment lay in the spirit or the letter, the content of the Federalist Papers makes it clear that the Founders intended for an indisputable separation between church and state.

    Think about it. How could Congress be prevented from making a law that established a government-approved religion or from barring people from practicing any religion they chose, if there was NOT a clear and absolute separation of government from everything to do with the workings of and establishments of whatever churches and religions happened to come along?

    Answer: it couldn’t. Congress either can empower a given religion or religions with the force of law and by corollary legally bar its citizens from practicing certain religions, or it must stay out of the game altogether. There is no middle ground on this point.

  112. Bruce Gourley -  October 20, 2010 - 2:53 pm

    Baptist Roger Williams in the 17th century formulated the phrase “wall of separation” to describe the “separation of church and state.” Baptists for two centuries fought to disestablish colonial theocracies and separate church from state. Their persistent witness and work, met with severe persecution at the hands of colonial “Christian” governments, was a major factor in America being founded as the world’s first secular nation that separated church from state. The First Amendment was the culmination of Baptist’ witness and work for those two centuries. Only in recent decades have many Baptists (and many Christians in America) forsaken their nation’s and faith’s roots and (incorrectly) charged that America was not founded upon the principles of separation of church and state.

  113. Mark L. Walker -  October 20, 2010 - 2:52 pm

    I will teach my students to use the originalism aurgument when then answer a question wrong, they also had a hard time finding it in the first amendment, on second though they me be all Republicans.

  114. WE THE PEOPLE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 20, 2010 - 2:51 pm

    [...] Dumpster Stew — freedom to practice anything — unless it’s illegal too. — We The People Know those changing Laws — seems like the power of the MEGA Corporation — with freedom [...]

  115. G Talan -  October 20, 2010 - 2:50 pm

    Here’s another interpretation. Freedom of religion does not imply freedom from religion.

  116. Henry D. -  October 20, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    This is how liberal scholars and activist judges interpret the 1st amendment. By-the-way, since you mentioned the Bible you might try reading it some time. Christine O’Donnell ‘got it right’! I just erased your biased and rivisionist service.

  117. Bayleaf -  October 20, 2010 - 2:41 pm

    So “…shall make no law…” and interpreting that is “…shall make no law..” is being a literalist?

  118. rheannon -  October 20, 2010 - 2:37 pm

    So, which exactly are the “three useful words”? This was an interesting article, but which three words are the focus?

  119. DIGIKO -  October 20, 2010 - 2:22 pm

    I didnt know this was here . anyways its kinda sorta interesting you know . i gess im going to start using these words . { HOPEFULLY IF I CAN REMEMBER TO ! }

  120. David E. -  October 20, 2010 - 2:16 pm

    Well, all it says is that Congress cannot establish a national religion. However, the majority of Americans are religious, and it’s fine to use religious sentiments in regards to laws.

    (Am I an originalist?)


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