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No sooner did I write two posts on the hypocrisy of the far right, which both claims that it’s “Constitutional Idolatry” demonstrates a superior respect for the historical document they are inadverantly mocking, and simultaneously prosecutes a theocratic agenda in direct opposition to the First Amendment (inspiring my post just this morning: Why the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses Are So Vital), then our non-witch friend was accommodating enough to explicitly, publicly deny that the First Amendment embodies any such principle as “separation of church and state” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101019/ap_on_el_se/us_delaware_senate). (My other very recent post on the subject, yesterday afternoon, was about how the proponents of Amendment 62 in Colorado, defining life as beginning at conception, used an outright deception trying to trick voters very probably opposed to it to vote for it, thinking that it is something else entirely, in a blatant expression of contempt for the concept of democracy and constitutionalism: Zealots Trying To Undermine Democracy).

Ms. O’Donnell is wrong on the law. Though the First Amendment doesn’t use the phrase “Separation of Church and State,” the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause is very clearly to create just such a separation, at least in every sense that anyone might be politically or religiously motivated to object to: The state can neither favor nor disfavor any religion. Since it can neither favor nor disfavor, it is separated from those religions by the imposition of neutrality. That is precisely what the phrase “separation of church and state” refers to, and precisely what right-wing antagonists to constitutional democracy like O’Donnell want to undermine.

The state is, in fact, not separated from religion within the context of neutrality to all religions. It can, and does, partner with religious institutions to achieve secular ends. It can, and does, accommodate religious institutions, equitably and without favoritism, in a variety of ways (tax breaks, for instance, and access to public buildings for religious purposes, such as religious clubs in school). But the Christine O’Donnells of the world are not concerned with the lack of separation as long as no religion is favored or disfavored; rather, they are eager to find a way to dismantle precisely the kind of separation that the First Amendment imposes, the kind that acts as a bulwark against the theocratic impulses of the modern conservative movement in America, the most anti-constitutional, and to some extent anti-democratic, movement we’ve seen in a long time in this country.

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