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Sacrosanctum Concilium

As discussed before, many people treat the Constitution as a sacred text. Yet, it appears too many of those don’t even understand what they’re worshiping.

There are no Latin translation issues, so what’s the problem? Maybe this is another instance of faith being a poor substitute for learning and knowledge. Remember that atheists knew more about religious doctrine than many of the faithful. So when people who fancy themselves “constitutional conservatives” like Christine O’Donnell don’t know that the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” and ask “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?,” what’s going on?

We’re seeing an example of what happens when people worship ideas and are dogmatically bonded to an ideology. O’Donnell isn’t the first person to ask, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Don’t mistake it for actual curiosity; the religious right has a long campaign of challenging the secular nature of our constitution, and that question is a prime indication that O’Donnell has spent more time reading Christian revisionist historians like David Barton than reading mainstream Constitutional law or the Constitution itself. It’s the same phenomena we see with the anti-evolution crowd, who have spent countless hours studying ways to challenge the biology without bothering to learn what it is actually about. If someone says something like, “I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet,” we know they haven’t read any scientific books on evolution, but sure have gone to a creationist website.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that people like Ed Brayton of ScienceBlogs can dismantle the common arguments against the “separation of Church and State.”

Of course it’s true that the actual phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the constitution. But then neither are the phrases “separation of powers” or “checks and balances”, yet no one would argue that the concepts are not there, embodied in numerous specific provisions. Just as the founders used those phrases to describe the intent of the constitutional provisions for power to be divided between three branches of government, they also used the phrase “separation of church and state” to describe the intent of the religion clauses of the first amendment. When the courts go about applying constitutional law, one of the primary ways they do it is to look for the “legislative intent” – the purpose that those who wrote the law had in mind, the goal they wanted to accomplish. When the men who wrote it say in several places, as they did, that the goal of the religion clauses of the first amendment was to erect a wall of separation between church and state, that is about as authoritative as it gets when you’re trying to determine legislative intent.

I hope episodes like these make secular people everywhere realize that it’s not just the science of evolution that the faithful will undermine, but that faith can corrode all of science, all of law, all of history, and reason in general. I know that comes off as hyperbolic. I’m not claiming that all of reason or our secular nation is in immediate danger of collapsing under the pressure of faith but only that we must be vigilant and recognize that faith and reason are fundamentally incombatiable.

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  1. DaveH
    October 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    At least it’s encouraging that the audience has a hearty laugh at her expense.

  2. Jack
    October 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    What’s really disturbing is that there is a growing population in this country that identifies itself with the political doctrines of O’Donnell. That you can debate that intelligent design rivals evolutionary theory and should be taught in a science class shows how far we have fallen. Did anyone catch the recent NYT article regarding the Koch Brothers weekend getaway in which to “develop strategies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity”. The Koch boys have been dropping big bucks into the Tea Party movement and have been described as the “kingpin of climate science denial” What is especially disturbing regarding this yearly weekend getaway is that it has been attended by Supreme Court Justice’s Scalia and Thomas! Does this bother anyone besides me? Citizens United anyone?

    Related links on the Koch Bros.:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/us/politics/20koch.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer

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