Resist the urge to savage Christine O’Donnell regarding her understanding of the 1st Amendment *UPDATED*

Two of my absolute favorite political writers, Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin, have chastised O’Donnell for her recently reported constitutional error.  I think that, perhaps, they’re being unfair.  It’s clear from reading the news reports that the Constitutional portion of the debate was intended to be a pile-up on O’Donnell:

Also during the debate, O’Donnell stumbled when asked whether or not she would repeal the 14th, 16th, or 17th Amendments if elected.

“The 17th Amendment I would not repeal,” she said, before asking the questioner to define the 14th and 16th amendments, adding: “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my Constitution with me.”

The 16th Amendment allows Congress to raise taxes without apportioning them among the states or tying the taxation to Census results. The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States. The 17th Amendment established direct election by popular vote of two U.S. Senators to each state.

I’m a lawyer and, beyond the 1st ten Amendments, plus the 13th and 14th, I too would have trouble nailing any given Amendment’s substance just by numerical reference.  Knowing the Constitution and “speaking the code” are two different things.

As for O’Donnell’s alleged ignorance about the 1st Amendment, I wouldn’t be too hasty.  I haven’t heard the audio from the debate, so I don’t know how exactly it played out.  I’m inherently suspicious of the media’s spin on it, though, simply because I know that they want to paint her as an uneducated hick, unsuited to higher office.  The context was that Coons was pushing the Leftist view, which is that the 1st Amendment essentially outlaws religion in any aspect of public life, leaving it to exist only within the four walls of the Church (or synagogue or temple) or the home.

Coon’s view, although the media heartily approves, is manifestly wrong.  The First Amendment’s carefully phrased language was intended to keep the federal government from establishing a state church, akin to the Church of England that had so recently controlled the colonies.  For those who didn’t worship at its altar, the Church of England still required taxpayer funding and it seriously restricted access to politics, employment and education.  The Founders wanted to ensure that American citizens wouldn’t never be forced to worship in a centralized government faith — or, worse, be penalized for refusing to so worship.  This is a far cry from outlawing faith entirely, which is where Coons is going.

Further, that same carefully phrased language was intended to ensure that local governments could, if they so desired, establish a faith:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  (Emphasis mine.)  That emphasized phrasing makes it plain that other governing bodies can make laws respecting establishment of religion.  And indeed, at the time the Founders enacted the Bill of Rights, several of the States did have official churches.

If you doubt this, contrast the 1st Amendment’s language with that in the 2nd Amendment.  There, the Founders made plain that no governing entity, whether federal, state or civic, could pass any law limiting arms:  “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.”  The 2nd Amendment is one example of passive voice being a good thing.

O’Donnell clearly understands the way in which the 1st Amendment was intended to work — and it’s entirely possible that, in the context of the debate, she was still laboring over these substantive  ideas when Coons, conversationally, threw out his constitutional quotation.  That would explain O’Donnell’s confusion.  Context is everything and, until I hear what happened there, I reserve the right to question the MSM’s reporting.

Even if the MSM is correct, though, that O’Donnell didn’t remember the precise phrasing in the 1st Amendment, the situation between the two candidates, Coons and O’Donnell, is still unequal.  When it comes to the 1st Amendment, Coons knows what it says, but doesn’t get what it means; O’Donnell gets what it means, but doesn’t know what it says.  And given a choice between the two, I’d always take the one who understands the Constitution, rather than the one who parrots it mindlessly and twists it to Marxist ends.

UPDATENeo-neocon caught the same fallacies in both Coons’ and the MSMs’ approach to the First Amendment.  And I should have known Rush would get there first.

UPDATE IIO’Donnell expounds upon her accurate understanding of the 1st Amendment.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Ymarsakar

    I don’t believe a single thing derived from enemy propaganda.
    They aren’t going to be the ones telling me what is true. I and I alone decide that little issue.

  • richlud

    I must politely disagree with what you wrote regarding the 14th amendment. It most definitely does not give citizenship to just anyone born within our borders. The key to the amendment is the phrase “under the jurisdiction of,” that phrase limits citizenship to people with legal standing in this country. However it also excludes people here legally but not under the jurisdiction of our government like for example ambassadors, legal visitors on a visa. etc. That is the most annoying thing to me, when people who should know better buy into the liberal lie about the 14th amendment.

  • MacG

    The report I read Coon’s parsing othe first ammendment left out “Nor shall make any laws RESTRICTING the free expression thereof.”  O’Donnell’s answer after “That’s in the Constitution?” was ended with an ellipsis.
    I too am suspect of the media’s bias against all things creation.  You know the Ivory Tower dwellwers will press a creationist with the infinite regression question regarding the existance of God but so readily fail to ask that of their own religious belief in pure happenstance.  When Ben Stein and company pushed Richard Dawikins into the what if life is too complex to have spontaneously generated scenario Dawkins said then it is likely that Ailens seeded the planet.  Apply inifinte regression here.  What I did not get about this was why did they not just stay themselves…

    Which came first the chicken or the egg is a red herring to obscure the real question of where the atoms and their subatomic particles and their subsubatomic particles come from?  As we know from physics, you don’t get something from nothing. 

    The term Evolution is like the word Muslim.  To say Muslims killed us on 9/11 is true enough however truer still is to say Wahabbi’s killed us on 9/11 removing the stigma from those divisions of Islam that did not. Evolution is a chapter word like Muslim or Christian and in that chapter is a myriad of things that are called evolution.  We can observe intra-species evolition everyday.  I have no problem with that.  But for me to say I believe in evolution may be read as I believe that it all came from nothing and exploded without outside force and organized into the beautiful organism mankind and all it took was time and no outside informational directions.  That is not what I believe so I am pushed into the creationist category by atheistic scientism deeming me factually stupid.  Now that I am pigeon holed with the clingers to guns and religion (I just pictured Klinger of MASH with his AR in his Sunday hat, dress and heels-too funny) I can rarely have a decent conversation all because I do not have the faith in their “evidence” that they do. I mean seriously, everybody knows save for the psycotic, that they did not make themselves. How could the universe, the substance we are largely made of, make itself?

    Sorry to give you all an insight to my scattered mind but I had to get it out to get back to work :)

  • wrwoodman

    Michelle Malkin wrote about this today.  O’Donnell threw this back at Coons who couldn’t name the five freedoms named in the first amendment.  Of course the MSM isn’t going to report that.

  • Pingback: » Resist the urge to savage Christine O’Donnell regarding her understanding of the 1st Amendment The Progressive Hunter()

  • Danny Lemieux

    I think it is clear that O’Donnell knows far more than Coons, and (apparently) the law students in the audience, the intent and meaning of the Constitution. It’s really not any more complicated than that. That so many law students apparently think that “separation of church and state” appears in the Constitution is really worrisome.
    I like O’Donnell more and more.

  • Ymarsakar

    So the summary appears to be… what?
    O’Donnel knows what it means and also knows what it says?

  • Ymarsakar

    Hehe, Book. If things turn out well, you will have gotten the “Resist” award for your proactive blog title/post.
    I simply make it a habit not to listen to the Left. I make it a habit not to believe in the Left. I make it a habit not be conned by the Left.
    it’s a habit. I don’t have to think about it. It’s like breathing. It’s not like trying to suck in a breath under water. It’s healthy. It’s proactive. It’s even ‘Green’ so to speak.

  • Ymarsakar

    “I share Pete’s dismay at Christine O’Donnell’s not being familiar with the First Amendment.”
    I don’t care who the heck you are. I question your judgment given the obvious ease to which you and Pete fell for a Democrat con I could see coming in my sleep.
    This is the New Vanguard? Better make sure you know who your controllers really are.
    To defeat the Left, people are going to need a little bit more than simply acting the mark for organizations with ulterior motives. Have your own ideas using your own judgment. Rather than simply saying what the Left told you to say, thinking you came up with the idea on your own.
    You didn’t come up with the idea on your own. Keep that in mind for later.

  • Ymarsakar

    “Sarah Palin has assured us that Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell is a “constitutional conservative.” In that case, O’Donnell might set aside some time to re-read the Constitution.”
    Peter Wehner. Still carrying the resentment of Sarah Palin upsetting the old Republican guard’s little tet a tet with the Democrat party?

  • Spartacus

    “The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States.”
    Huh???  That’s it???  Aside from the fact that the intent of that clause is a matter of debate, that’s like saying that The Sound of Music is a movie about some Austrian children who spend an afternoon playing in clothes made from old curtains: there’s just a wee tad more to it than that.  Like this, in particular:
    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
    I’m not a lawyer, and don’t play one on TV, but even I know that these three clauses are heavy-hitters in constitutional law.  Call me hard-hearted, but were I a news editor, I would be hard-pressed to understand why I should not fire a reporter like Ms. Madison for making such a huge (and convenient) omission.