Delaware GOP senate nominee, Christine O’Donnell, has shocked us once again, this time with her disbelief that the separation of church and state is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Her opponent, Chris Coons schooled her live in a debate, where the incredulous O’Donnell came to terms with the facts.
The rest of us learned something too, today. O’Donnell’s bold display of ignorance regarding some of the core values that make Americans American finally revealed why so many in the U.S. think we should be allowed to pray and teach creationism at public schools. It’s unconstitutional, but they never, ever knew!
American education has been the cause of hand-wringing over the decades. O’Donnell is the product of that education, writ large. In fairness, the fact that her Democratic opponent couldn’t name the other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment should also be of concern. (Even older boys’ education is lagging?)
One could be forgiven for not knowing the details of the 9th Amendment, but Christ!, we’re talking about the First Amendment. The constitutional provision behind the classic kid rejoinder, “Hey, man, it’s a free country.”
It’s sort of easy for reporters to pile on O’Donnell — and they definitely should. After all, those working in the media should have at least a basic knowledge of the First Amendment as it grants them access to the kinds of meetings journalists in other countries wouldn’t even bother to show up to.
Still, it’s not just for the so-called gatekeepers to understand. Our freedom of speech and religion is just so basic. We should all know this! Why don’t we all know this? Not knowing this has clearly, clearly changed how we behave as individuals and what we’re doing as a society.
It’s not subversive to teach the First Amendment, but you have to wonder if some day it might be. I think I’ll throw this one out on the dinner table tonight for discussion. Sure, the 9- and 5-year-old will roll their eyes. But apparently, unlike the guaranteed separation of church and state, we Americans aren’t guaranteed a basic education in, well, us.
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