We learned today that candidate for U.S. Senate, a candidate who would swear to support and
defend the Constitution of the United States if she won, does not know the first thing about the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. In our fifth story: Republican Tea Party candidate
Christine O’Donnell of Delaware literally did not know the first
thing in the First Amendment. It is, of course, the fundamental principle
on which this nation was founded. That principle, as you’ll see, that she
actually disputed is even in the Constitution. For the record, before we go on, the relevant words, themselves. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It seems pretty clear. On that basis, Democratic candidate
Chris Coons opposes the teaching of creationism which U.S. courts have found to be a religious doctrine in public schools. Why? Because taking taxpayer dollars to
fund teaching of religious doctrine would be the government teaching and establishing a religion. And government cannot do that. But in the debate today, O’Donnell’s
first claim that evolution is just a theory. By the way, gravity’s explained in
science by the gravitational theory. If you think gravity is just a theory, you’re welcome to try that out and
see how it works for you. O’Donnell then revealed her ignorance about the
Constitution, cracking up the audience of law professors and students as you‘ll hear for yourselves.
Our public schools should be teaching broadly accepted scientific fact. Not religious doctrine. Well, you just proved how
little you know. The reason we‘re in the mess we‘re in is because our so-called leaders in Washington no longer view the indispensable principles of our founding as truly that, indispensable.
We‘re supposed to have limited government, low taxation— One of those indispensable principles is the
separation of church and state. OK. With that, very good dialogue. We appreciate that. Let‘s move
on so we can get through all the panelists and cover a number of areas. from “The News Journal,” please, if you could
ask the next question, please. Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state? It‘s in—excellent point. Hold on. Hold on, please. That was embarrassing. The moderater moved on.
But Coons went back to it as part of a broader debate about the Constitution, including O’Donnell‘s support of Griswold v. Connecticut.
While she rejects Roe v. Wade, which is made possible if not inevitable actually by Griswold. Despite the laughter she got earlier, O’Donnell kept at it. In my view, it is important to know whether you have on my
side a candidate who believes and supports those things and on the other side a candidate
who‘s both unfamiliar with—Let me just clarify. You‘re telling me that the separation of church
and state is found in the First Amendment. Government shall make no establishment of religion. That‘s in the First Amendment? My favorite part
is how smug she looks. That was awesome. Anyway, joining us tonight is Jamie Raskin,
professor of constitutional law at American University, as well as state senator of Maryland. Thanks for your time tonight. My pleasure. Happy to be with you. Yes, great to
have you here. Chris Coons understated things, didn’t he? The First Amendment does not prohibit
Congress from establishing religion, does not merely separate church and state.
It says Congress shall not even make any law respecting an establishment of religion. What‘s the difference there? Well, that‘s right. No part of a government can
make any law respecting an establishment of religion and also the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise
of every individual to choose his or her own religion without the state imposing another religious choice upon them. So, you know, I guess, you know, the Republican
candidate is right in this very narrow sense that the First Amendment doesn’t explicitly say that there‘s a wall of separation between
church and state. That was a phrase that Thomas Jefferson first used in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist. But what the conservatives want to say basically
is anything that the government does with respect to religion is OK as long as they don‘t literally establish a church. So, that would mean it‘s OK to tax the taxpayers to give money to support particular religious dominations
or religious activities or prayer in the schools, the kinds of things that they want to push. And so, they’ve been attacking Thomas Jefferson
and James Madison and the founders of the Constitution who really did believe in a radical separation of church and state.
That was the whole meaning of the First Amendment and really the most revolutionary thing
about the American Constitution. What would Thomas Jefferson know
about the Constitution, anyway? And by the way, she went further.
She said, establishment of that we cannot establish religion in
the First Amendment, come on. So, she got it completely and utterly wrong. But let’s go further here to the core of this here. How revolutionary an idea was that at the time
when the Founding Fathers said we shall not have a state religion? Well, and look, the glory of the American Constitution, you know, beyond the separation of powers which
it appeared before in other places or due process, which it appeared before in other places was the radical break from centuries
of fusion of church and state in Europe. And this history of Holy Wars,
the Catholics fighting the Protestants, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witchcraft trials, the rack and the screws and torture of people because of their religious views. The American Enlightenment
revolutionaries wanted to break from that violent history of religious conflict which they were fleeing in Europe, and so wrote into the First Amendment these incredible principles that there will be no establishment of religion here and every person would be guaranteed
a liberty of conscience to make his or her own choices to worship how he or she pleases or not at all,
as many of the founders indeed chose not to do. Many of them were, you know, described as heretics and deists and infidels,
and Thomas Jefferson was, you know, considered a radical and Jacobin because of his skepticism towards organized religion. And in the truth, the Constitution
doesn‘t mention the word God. Article VI says there should be no religious test for public office. And our founders wanted to create a society that was safe for religion and
for people to practice religion freely But that meant no religion could
come to dominate government and oppress everybody else. Jamie, real quick. I mean, this is not a matter
of dispute, is it? I mean, every once in a while you‘ll see these conservatives say, oh, you know,
some of the Founding Fathers really believed in God and hence, we must be right. I mean, is this something that‘s disputed in law, in legal circles? Or is it
something that‘s absolutely clear, these guys, the Founding Fathers clearly said in the Constitution and meant we shall not establish a religion and that there should be a separation of church and state? I mean, if you ask me, it‘s perfectly clear.
Now, you know, I got to say, Justice Thomas, for example, takes a very pinched view of the Establishment
Clause where he basically says not only does it mean only that you can‘t establish
a religion the way that the Anglican Church is established.
You know, we have a Church of England. But only Congress cannot establish the church.
There are those who take the position—and I think
Justice Thomas is still one of them who believe that it‘s OK for states
to establish their own churches. That is the mainstream view.
That‘s not the pervasive view. But, you know, the Republican nominee
in Delaware does speak for a right wing position which is that the whole wall of separation understanding
of the Constitution, which goes back to the Founders, is something that‘s been imposed by Thomas Jefferson and Madison and by other radical Jacobins. Right. So, you know,
they‘re basically still fighting a civil conflict that goes back to the beginning of the American republic and they‘re contesting what the values of the
country are. But what‘s made us a great country, if you think about us versus, you know, the people that we‘re dealing
with in the Islamic world, is that we don‘t believe in theocracy. We don‘t
believe in an imposition of a religion where everybody‘s got to follow
what the state is saying. At least we brought some people together.
Conservative right wingers here maybe agree with the conservative government of Saudi Arabia. There‘s some positive out of this. Well, there‘s a lot of theocracy on
the march all around the world. Oh, unfortunately, there is. Jamie Raskin,
professor of constitutional law at American University thank you so much for your time tonight. Pleasure‘s mine. Now, let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman,
senior political editor for “Huffington Post” as well. Good evening, Howard. Hi, Cenk. All right. Look, even O‘Donnell has already
been written off politically, Howard, do her views speak poorly of the people who elected her,
namely the Tea Party voters Yes. It probably doesn‘t help the Tea Party at all.
I mean, I suppose you could argue that by having Christine O’Donnell around and speaking
the way she did today makes Sharon Angle look like Doris Kearns Goodwin or something. But it—you know, that‘s the only way she
might be useful as a point of contrast. And what‘s really killing here, what‘s damning here is that the Tea Party is run in the
name of rights and freedom. And all of those rights and freedoms are
enshrined in the very amendments that she seems totally ignorant of. So that‘s really
the crushing contrast here. that’s really the big question contrast here Well, you know, they always seem to say that
they care so much about the Constitution. But other than the Second Amendment and this bizarre theory on the Tenth Amendment, I never really honestly saw them give a damn.
I mean, when Bush was running over the Fourth Amendment, when we still have warrantless wiretaps,
I‘ve never seen them protest that. Have they—have you seen them protest anything
outside of those or care about anything those two amendments? No, not really, except that the whole sort of
the mood music, the theme music, if you will, of the Tea Party is: don‘t tread on me. And don‘t trample on my rights. And that‘s a big part of what the
Bill of Rights is all about, and they were enshrined and made applicable
to all the states and to all citizens by the post-Civil War amendments.
And you know, they are some of the amendments that they‘re also questioning right now, because the 14th Amendment basically says that everyone here who‘s born here, naturalized here,
is a citizen of the United States and their rights cannot be abridged
by any of the states. And yet, the sort of local orientation
of the Tea Party, you heard Christine O’Donnell talk about local
option what the local people want to do. You know, that‘s—that‘s something that is protected by the fourteenth amendment Yes. I love that argument.
I love the Constitution and I‘d like to repeal the 14th Amendment Yes. It doesn‘t make much sense to me. But, Howard
The Civil War was—that was sort of what the Civil War was about. Yes, I think we had a war over that. That‘s right. So, now, real quick, though, let‘s pick a
religion, because if we‘re going to establish a religion, and there‘s to separation
of church and state, we got to pick one, right?
Is it going to be Episcopalian? Southern Baptist? Mormon maybe,
backed Harry Reid, Mitt Romney I think there‘s an answer to this question, Cenk.
It‘s the Aqua Buddha religion of Rand Paul when he was in college I think we‘re all going to—
It‘s not a bad answer. I hadn‘t thought of that. Well, we‘re all going to have to be worshipping
Aqua Buddha after the Tea Party takes charge. Right. Because I presume they‘re not going with Islam.
That‘s probably out. But— Probably out. But Aqua Buddha, keep your eye
on that one. OK, I will. OK. All right. Howard Fineman, senior editor for the
“Huffington Post”—thanks for joining us.