O’Donnell ‘teaches’ Bachmann about separation of Church and State

Oh boy. I just couldn’t let this go. Lawrence O’Donnell says that in fact Michele Bachmann and her crazy band of Tea Partiers are correct that the phrase ‘separation of Church and State’ is not in the Constitution. He even quotes the first amendment and then asks how do we know that the founders intended a separation of Church and State and then quotes this:

“…I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

From this he asserts that yes, this is how we know that there is supposed to be a wall, or a separation of Church and State. But he says it as if it’s some arbitrary separation that ‘Church and State’ can’t commingle. In fact, if you keep it in the context of what he read on the screen, you’ll see that Jefferson said that the separation is in fact that the federal government shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s it – that’s the separation. It’s what the first amendment says! Jefferson didn’t say something different, like saying that the individuals couldn’t practice their faith in the government. He didn’t say that you had to keep religion out of public schools. He didn’t say that you couldn’t say ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. He didn’t say that you couldn’t have prayer groups that say “in the name of Jesus” in government buildings. He said that the separation of Church and State is simply that the federal government won’t create a government religion and won’t stop you from practicing yours. Nothing else. And it was right there on the screen and he still missed it!!! What a moron!

It’s funny, they put that in the Constitution to protect our freedoms to worship as we please, and not as the government says we must, like in China. It’s really not that hard to understand.

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  • itoldyaso

    Okay, let me get this straight. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was Proposed on 9/25/1789 and ratified by the 13 colonies on 12/15/1971. This guy, O’Donnell (who is not a lawyer – at least i hope not) is quoting a statement from President Jefferson in 1802. Also, he is talking about LEGISLATURES (e.g. state legislatures) not Congress.

    Am I missing something here on how Christine O’Donnell, Bachman and even Mark Levin are CORRECT that the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not mention or imply the Separation of Church and State?

    • Extremely Right

      No you didn’t miss it. MSNBC hires all their “Anchors” through a temp agency.

    • Paulchri

      Jefferson is referring to religion run gvnmt, and government run religion. You cannot have free exercise, and keep religious principles out of gvnmt. The founding fathers were not as ignorant as liberals as to believe that those principles are exempt from gvnmt. Their writings often referred to exempting God as being the downfall of the republic. I wish people would understand that most all media today is agendized by the elites and promotes ignorance and deception. If the internet becomes sensored, we are finished for any real news. God help us.

      • Anonymous

        Jefferson was talking about Shari’a !!

        • LOL, he, Jefferson, that is, was speaking of the Holy Roman catholics and the Anglican churches. Thomas Jefferson wanted to be an Indian, navajo I believe.

          • Mikemorrison281

            That is NOT who Jefferson was speaking of. The Danbury Baptists were concerned that their religious freedoms in Connecticut would be viewed as favors and not rights by the STATE religion of Connecticut: The Congregational Church who didn’t like the Baptists or any other denomination. Jefferson was trying to convince the Baptists that their rights were indeed rights, and not some favor or permission granted by the STATE CHURCH.

            If more pundits and talking heads would just tell the entire story, the facade of “separation of church and state” would be knocked down easily.

            The “wall” was to keep gov’t out of church, not church out of government as EVERY COLONY at the time HAD A STATE RELIGION.


    • Furthermore, while Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (which says we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and expressed a reliance on Providence), he was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, nor was he in Congress when the First Amendment was proposed to the states for ratification.

      Since the Declaration is in fact the founding document of the USA (the Constitution is a governmental reorganization that explicitly expresses continuity with the governmental structure under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union) the notion that religious faith has no place in the public square is absurd on its face.

  • In 1811 Pres Madison (you know the father of the Constitution) used his first two vetoes to stop two acts of Congress in regard to religion.He justified these vetoes on the grounds that setting aside money or land for a church violated the Establishment Clause.

    “February 21, 1811.

    Having examined and considered the bill entitled “An Act incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in the town of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia,” I now return the bill to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, with the following objections:

    Because the bill exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.” The bill enacts into and establishes by law sundry rules and proceedings relative purely to the organization and polity of the church incorporated, and comprehending even the election and removal of the minister of the same, so that no change could be made therein by the particular society or by the general church of which it is a member, and whose authority it recognizes. This particular church, therefore, would so far be a religious establishment by law, a legal force and sanction being given to certain articles in its constitution and administration. Nor can it be considered that the articles thus established are to be taken as the descriptive criteria only of the corporate identity of the society, inasmuch as this identity must depend on other characteristics, as the regulations established are generally unessential and alterable according to the principles and canons by which churches of that denomination govern themselves, and as the injunctions and prohibitions contained in the regulations would be enforced by the penal consequences applicable to a violation of them according to the local law.

    Because the bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.

    To the House of Representatives of the United States:
    February 28, 1811.

    Having examined and considered the bill entitled “An act for the relief of Richard Tervin, William Coleman, Edwin Lewis, Samuel Mims, Joseph Wilson, and the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, in the Mississippi Territory,” I now return the same to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, with the following objection:

    Because the bill in reserving a certain parcel of land of the United States for the use of said Baptist Church comprises a principle and precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.”


    Both vetoes were overwhelming upheld by Congress.What is more is that both vetoes were also upheld by the Churches affected

    “On April 27 and May 4, 1811, two North Carolina Baptist churches wrote to President Madison about his veto:


    The Baptist Church on Neels Creek in Cumberland County in the State of North Carolina having Received intelligence Respecting the Affair of the Baptist Church at Salem meeting house in the mississippi Territory Considering the said affair as proceeding from Some of our Religious Connections and that the Same is not Consistent with the Spiritual interest of Religion and that the tendency of Such a procedure if perpetuated would inevitably give to Religious Societies an undue weight and Corrupt influence in public affairs at large and diminish Religious enlargement impairing our civil and Religious liberties and in fine Contaminate our national morals we therefore desire to assure you that we entertain a high Sense of and Confidence in your illustrious objection against the Bill wherein we humbly conceive as eminent an Instance of patriotism have displayed as in any occurrence of the kind.

    Signed by order and in behalf of Conference

    Jesse Jones

    The Baptist Church on Black Creek in Johnston County in the State of north Carolina having heard the above Read and approbated the Same.

    Signed by order and in behalf of Conference.

    May the 4–1811”

    And Madison thanked them in return

    “June 3, 1811

    I have recd. fellow Citizens your address, approving my Objection to the Bill contain[in]g a grant of public land, to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House Missippi Terry. Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion & Civil Govt as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constn: of the U.S. I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself. Among the various religious Societies in our Country, none have been more vigilant or constant in maintain[in]g that distinction, than the Society of which you make a part, and it is an honourable proof of your sincerity & integrity, that you are as ready to do so, in a case favoring the interest of your brethren, as in other cases. It is but just, at the same time, to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, to remark that their application to the Natl. Legislature does not appear to have contemplated a grant of the Land in question, but on terms that might be equitable to the public as well as to themselves. Accept my friendly respects”


    Now remember,this is twenty plus years after the Constitution was written.Most of the Founders had moved on and most of the member of Congress had nothing to do with the Framing,but yet they upheld Madisons vetoes.So you have to ask yourself did the previous Houses of Congress and presidents don’t understand what they had wrote or is is that christian nationalists of the present day don’t understand it?

    But let’s get back to Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists and how it relates to the laws of this land.

    In 1878 the mormons challenged the Federal government’s law that banned the evil and dirty practice of slavery otherwise known as polygamy.The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act banned polygamy and when a mormon known as George Reynolds was arrested for polygamy he sued the Federal government for violating his religious rights.He lost his case badly,only one Justice sided with him.Chief Justice Morrison Waite writing the majority opinion stated

    “Upon this charge and refusal to charge the question is raised, whether religious belief can be accepted as a justification of an overt act made criminal by the law of the land. The inquiry is not as to the power of Congress to prescribe criminal laws for the Territories, but as to the guilt of one who knowingly violates a law which has been properly enacted, if he entertains a religious belief that the law is wrong.

    Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the Territories which shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The first amendment to the Constitution expressly forbids such legislation. Religious freedom is guaranteed everywhere throughout the United States, so far as congressional interference is concerned. The question to be determined is, whether the law now under consideration comes within this prohibition.

    The word “religion” is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is, what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed….

    Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the colonies and States to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining heretical opinions.

    This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a “Memorial and Remonstrance,” which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated “that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator,” was not within the cognizance of civil government. At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, “for establishing religious freedom,” drafted by Mr. Jefferson, was passed. In the preamble of this act religious freedom is defined; and after a recital “that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty,” it is declared “that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.” In these two sentences is found the true distinetion between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State…..

    At the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religious freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, took occasion to say: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god; that he owes account to noneother for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, — I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.

    Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people. At common law, the second marriage was always void, and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offence against society…. ”


    Odd how a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court dierctly quoted Jefferson’s letter in his ruling.In 1878,67 years after Madison used his veto power the Supreme Court used their Constitutional power to define a wall of seperation.Curious how they also quote one of Madison’s writing on seperation of church and state.

    How about we move foward 70 years to 1947 and Everson v. Board of Education,which was a case about taxpayer money and religious schooling.

    “”The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.'” 330 U.S. 1, 15-16.” Justice Hugo Black

    Huh? Another Justice of the Supreme Court quoting Jefferson? Curiouser and curiouser.But I’m sure if O’Donnell (Christie,not this MSNBC host) knew anything about the Supreme Court we’d all be the wiser for it.

    Which brings us back to Madison.He wrote the Constitution with an eye to a seperation of church and state.To say otherwise is a lie.And the Supreme Court (along with most of the Founders) agree with this.


    Madison’s Detached Memoranda laying out his case against chaplains and thanksgiving holidays.


    Jefferson’s letter to the Baptist


    Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” as quoted in the Reynolds case


    • DisturbingBehavior

      Honestly, one of the best reasoned arguments as to the dimensions of separation between church and state.

      I still have issues with Justice Hugo Black’s ruling on some aspects. Consider this a “devil’s advocate” argument. His reference to aiding any religion is a serious issue in regards to tax policy with religious institutions. By allowing individuals to write off donations to religious institutions, it is a sign of encouraging religion. Under his ruling, it is easy to interpret that this is a violation of the 1st amendment. I look to another issue here, school choice, which reason.tv thinks is a smart way to improve education. By tying the money to the child, the parents can choose which school to go to, but if that private school may have a religious institution behind it (Catholic schools come to mind, but they aren’t attended solely by Catholics) the government would possibly be able to deny it. Another area which could be contested, under the assumption of the 1811 vetos and Justice Hugo Black’s argument, is any religious institution (chapels on carriers for example, or mosques in the pentagon) on Federal or Military property. There is however a tradition of Military supporting religious practices for the troops, but this could even be viewed as being unconstitutional.

      I tend to only play devil’s advocate because there are contradictions between what has been ruled under the supreme court and what is practiced by the government. My biggest issue is what people have decided because of the 1947 supreme court decision as to when the laws and regulations go too far and instead of being “freedom of religion” become “freedom from religion.”
      I still go by the understanding that any individual should have the choice to practice or abstain from practice of any religious exercise. But when religious practice in any area is ruled unlawful, then there is no such thing as choice and therefore, no aspect of freedom.

    • Rich

      It was constitutionally ok for states and local governments to fund religious services/events/etc. up until the 14th ammendment. Whether or not Jefferson and Madison agreed/disagreed is irrelevant, because that’s the way the law worked. So it needs to be understood that when Madison and Jefferson wrote, they were absolutely writing about the power of the Congress, and not of our individual state. I’m right there with you against the likes of David Barton, when he tries to argue that congress used to print Bibles. No, it did not because A. they just didn’t and B. the founders would have clearly seen that as an afront to the first ammendment. However, they had no problem (at least not enough of them did, considering the colonies that signed it continued to sponsor religion), at least legally speaking, about individual states sponsoring religion in some form or another.

      The problem with Madison’s case against against chaplains is this…it was simply his case and not written law. Obviously, he didn’t win out, considering we still have chaplains opening up sessions of congress. I think sometimes we look at the words of a founder, and deem them absolute in meaning. Madison has obviously lost out in his case against he establishment of Chaplains (in the army, congress, etc.). Which then brings me to the not-so-great Hugo Black. How can that simpleton write this line, “No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities,” when chaplains are opening up sessions of congress right across the street every single day? Shouln’t he have at least wondered outloud that maybe that wall of seperation wasn’t understood the same way by all of the founders?

      It is here that the founders lose me in their ultimate meaning of the first ammendment. On the one hand, they would not sponsor (financially) the printing of the Bible (unlike what David Barton tells you) because, afterall, that is the Congress sponsoring religion. Yet, on the other, they were (and still are) paying chaplains to open up sessions of congress. I have to say, those two things really don’t mesh well.

      With all of that said, I have no idea how I come down on this issue. I see the arguements for the wall of seperation, yet I don’t read those words in the constitution. I see the the writings of Madison and Jefferson, yet I see chaplains in congress. Quite frankly, out of all of the plain, easy to understand language that is found in the constitution that the progressives have somehow totally misunderstood, this is the one place where I’m not so sure myself (unlike the easy to comprehend commerce clause).

    • Well done, Mickey (not surprised at all, but wanted to tell you).


  • Jonnyboy

    i dont know why were beating a dead horse here…

  • John

    This is a serious issue. We cannot allow the socialists to continue to spread wrong information to the public about what the 1st ammendment means.

    An establishment of religion relates to the kind of system in the UK, with the Church of England. This is the official church of the country, where the second legislative chamber, the House of Lords, is full of unelected, unaccountable Bishops. In essence, the church is the government to an extent.

    The 1st ammendment is simply to prevent an official religion becoming established as part of the federal government. It in no way prevents religions from freely expressing themselves or engaging in politics! What totalitarian nonsense to think otherwise!

  • Anonymous

    never forget… satan has a church also

  • Everyone knows what it means, the fact that we are even arguing about it means somebody does not like what it means. They want to change what it means to suit them. That sounds like some one not from this country or that doesn’t understand what “freedom” of religion is about. The infuece of any religion will be felt, as long as there is religion. I just don’t want Congress putting a law saying I must worship at certain times of the day while bowing to the east. Oh and I don’t want Congress passing laws saying I must have a tree and go to church on easter sunday and pay the church any money. Wait I have to work, I have to pay taxes , and I have to adhere to the law. Does that mean the government is forcing a religion on me. If the definition of religion is still the same as it has always been then yes it is. Not until the income tax law and the other socialistic ideas came about though. That’s it I have had enough, I am going to Mars to become a sovreign individual with a peice of land all my own to farm.

  • Right now I am contemplating that this guy contemplates no one knows what contemplate means.

  • SamIam

    And the next Sunday Jefferson went to Church Services at The Capital Building. Can I have my Nativity on the Town Common now?

  • MSNBC is full of Morons who get over inflated salaries to spew their agenda’s daily! What ever happened to News reporting?Report the facts.. not your spin on what the constitution say’s. The country spoke Mr.O’Donnel… we voted Michelle back in because she speaks for us the people! Not you and your tainted reporting. You ought to be ashamed of your self for taking a pay check for such lies you spew regularly to your watchers.

  • Anonymous

    So, the Constitution said we should prop up people, and that the government’s job is to create jobs?

  • KeninMontana

    This may be slightly off topic or not, but it’s an important tidbit none the less considering the heat the original story produced. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/11/04/hud-dismisses-complaint-woman-ad-seeking-christian-roommate/?test=latestnews

  • Diamondback

    And how does Mr. Brilliance rationalize the fact that church services were held in the CAPITOL BUILDING and that Congress directed the GPO to print and distribute bibles following adoption and ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

    Just curious.

  • Ben

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” that is one religion will not be placed above others. Thomas Jefferson emphasized this by using the term “separation of church and state” and it was in response to concerns from Baptists who had written to him worried that a particular religion would be favored or supported by the government. The atheist religion was also not to be placed above others so do not make laws “prohibiting the exercise thereof”.

  • Idahoser

    the very instant any agency says to any person “you cannot do that”, meaning anything to do with religion, you have a problem. There cannot exist a situation where some supposedly “supreme” court tells a student she may not pray if there is no ‘public’ school. The problem is not the child’s prayer, the problem is the bureaucrat who finds himself “in charge” of the student. THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!! There is no possibility of a “public school” ever being Constitutional!!!

    • Goldni007

      Wow! Very well put.

  • Idahoser

    the very instant any agency says to any person “you cannot do that”, meaning anything to do with religion, you have a problem. There cannot exist a situation where some supposedly “supreme” court tells a student she may not pray if there is no ‘public’ school. The problem is not the child’s prayer, the problem is the bureaucrat who finds himself “in charge” of the student. THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!! There is no possibility of a “public school” ever being Constitutional!!!

  • Anonymous

    not that hard to understand unless you are a liberal…