The First Amendment, O’Donnell, and Selective Literalism

There’s been a lot of chortling about Republican Senate candidate and Tea Buggerer Christine O’Donnell’s recent misunderstanding of the First Amendment. But it actually reveals a lot about the mindset of movement conservatives (and, remember, everything you need to know about how they operate can be understood by observing creationists). ScienceBlogling Ed Brayton sets the stage:

The debate was actually held at Widener Law School, which probably explains why the audience literally bursts into laughter when she she says:

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

The audience laughed out loud and she just sat there with a dumbass grin on her face. A few minutes later Coons returned to that issue and said, “The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish any religion…” O’Donnell interrupted at that point and asked, “The First Amendment does?” and kind of nodded her head in a sarcastic way. Well yes, Christine, it does. You might try reading it sometime.

Then she continued her incredulity, saying, “So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?” In fact, she repeated that question three times with this sarcastic smile on her face, as if she’d just caught him saying something outrageous. It’s really quite bizarre to watch the video.
Perhaps even worse, she once again repeats the absolute falsehood that the Supreme Court has always upheld local control of education decisions.

The last paragraph is the tell. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In a literal sense, O’Donnell is right: the First Amendment doesn’t mention the separation of church and state–that phrase was first used by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Nonetheless, at the time, the proponents of the Bill of Rights, including Jefferson himself, understood the First Amendment in this light. Since then the courts have repeatedly upheld this basic view.
But in Wingnutopia, the establishment clause is interpreted very literally–as long as there’s no official state religion, one can use public resources and power to promote sectarian dogma (which, of course, just happens to be theopolitically conservative Christianity). This is considered normal. What we witnessed is someone used to being in the wingnut bubble suddenly having to meet the Coalition of the Sane on our own terms, and it was ugly.
Of course, like biblical ‘literalism’, this literalism is selectively literal. After all, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 conflict in their orders of creation, yet this doesn’t seem to be a problem for a ‘literal’ interpretation*. After all, they don’t interpret the Second Amendment literally. The bit about “for purposes of forming a militia” is typically ignored. And a bunch of guys running around in combat fatigue underoos on the weekend is not what the militias were at all. In colonial times, these were organized by local governments, and failure to uphold one’s militia obligations was punishable (although this was, in practice, honored in the breach).
The O’Donnell idiocy is very instructive, as it sheds light on wingnut ideology. This is not her personal stupidity (if nothing else, she possesses a feral cunning that expresses itself in her ability to convince idiots to support her political Elmer Gantryism). This is how a large group of conservatives ‘think.’
If you live in Delaware, please remember this and vote against her.
*Some actually try to reconcile these two different creation stories by positing a flood that wiped out the first creation. This is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Not very literalist.

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Conservatives, Creationism. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The First Amendment, O’Donnell, and Selective Literalism

  1. fearlessfurnacefighter says:

    “for the puroposes of forming a militia”
    isn’t a quote from the 2nd
    it is an auguable interpetation but should not be in quotes

  2. 2nd amendment says:

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

  3. anthrosciguy says:

    Some actually try to reconcile these two different creation stories by positing a flood that wiped out the first creation. This is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Not very literalist.
    God forgot that part when he was dictating the Bible, and by the time someone pointed it out the book was in galleys. Even omnipotent beings have to watch their budget.

  4. JJ Brannon says:

    First, I reside in Delaware, am a lifelong registered independent who has voted in every election for which I was eligible, studied at MIT with Salvador Luria, and I considered the woman to be a self-aggrandizing paranoid since I began reading about her antics in 2004.
    However, for accuracy, word from those present at the debate passed along to me was that it was O’Donnell supporters who were laughing at Coons at the moment referenced supra.
    As extremely liberal yet generally iconoclastic SF writer Theodore Sturgeon observed, the introductory clause to the Second Amendment is not restrictive upon the remainder of the Amendment. I believe his example was, “The Moon being of green cheese, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Which is how the Supreme Court interprets the phrase: it’s a personal, incorporated right.
    Yes, she attracts whackos to her cause to elevate herself. This in itself does not tarnish conservatism as any post hoc ergo propter hoc exponent will acknowledge.
    Of course, a few decades ago when I was a child it was taught in elementary school civics that Thomas Jefferson was the key person responsible for Bill of Rights, along with his tag team partner [because TJ was stuck in France] James Madison. Not that Christine appears to realize that.

  5. fearlessfurnacefighter says:

    What do the teabaggers say about states rights, as that is not in the constitution either?

  6. JJ Brannon says:

    F^3 @ #5:
    As a matter of fact, it is:
    Amendment #10: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
    Are you sure your initials aren’t CO’D? :>)
    — JJB

  7. MacTurk says:

    And the good news is; there is intelligence in Delaware!
    The personification of self-seeking stupidity was rejected by the voters.
    Thank you Delaware, the inhabitants of the RealWorld(patent pending) salute your support for a fact-based universe.
    I cannot help it….”Ding dong, the Witch is dead..” Thank you.

  8. jscottu says:

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to provide a
    “boys night out to get away from the old lady”
    the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
    The right that is claimed does NOT depend on the clause.
    (Oh…someone already pointed that out above.

Comments are closed.