Christine O'Donnell: "Where in the Constitution is the Separation of Church and State?"

Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell speaks during a debate between O'Donnell and her opponent Chris Coons at Widener Law School in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, October 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Robert Craig, Pool) The News Journal

Republican Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell today challenged her Democratic opponent Chris Coons on his statement that the Constitution disallowed the integration of religion into the federal government, asking, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"

The exchange, which prompted laughs from the studio audience, came during a debate this morning at Delaware's Widener School of Law, which was aired by WDEL radio.

In a discussion over the whether or not public schools should be allowed to integrate religion-based ideas into science curricula, O'Donnell argued that local school districts should have the choice to teach intelligent design if they choose.

When asked point blank by Coons if she believed in evolution, however, O'Donnell reiterated that her personal beliefs were not germane.  "What I think about the theory of evolution is irrelevant," she emphasized, adding later that the school of thought was "not a fact but a theory."

Coons said that creationism, which he considers "a religious doctrine," should not be taught in public schools due to the Constitution's First Amendment.  He argued that it explicitly enumerates the separation of church and state.

"The First Amendment does?" O'Donnell asked. "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," Coons responded, reciting from memory the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Coons was off slightly: The first amendment actually reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.")

"That's in the First Amendment...?" O'Donnell responded. 

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."

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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 .

Earlier in the debate, O'Donnell accused Coons of constitutional ignorance, saying that "perhaps they didn't teach you Constitutional law at Yale Divinity School."

O'Donnell's campaign later defended her comments about the First Amendment in a statement, arguing that she "was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts."

"She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution," said O'Donnell's campaign manager, Matt Moran. "It was in fact Chris Coons who demonstrated his ignorance of our country's founding documents when he could not name the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment."


Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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