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O’Donnell and Coons Spar On Church-State Issue in Schools

By Alyson Klein — October 20, 2010 1 min read

The closely watched Delaware Senate contest scored another straight-to-YouTube moment yesterday when Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate, and Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee who defeated Rep. Mike Castle in the primary, sparred over separation of church and state.

O’Donnell told an audience at Widener law school that the idea of separation of church and state isn’t mentioned in the constitution. Coons countered that no, it’s spelled out in the first amendment. I’ll let constitutional scholars, government teachers, and umm... Anderson Cooper handle this one. (Check out the video here on the Democratic-leaning Huffington Post.) You can hear the crowd audibly gasp at O’Donnell’s assertion in the video.

But it’s worth noting that the exchange grew out of a disagreement over whether schools should be allowed to teach intelligent design (or creationism) alongside evolution.

Coons said no way. It’s appropriate to teach intelligent design and creationism in private or parochial schools he said, but not in public schools.

“Our schools should be teaching science,” he said. “If we want to instruct our children in religious doctrine, as my wife and I choose to, that’s wonderful, that’s what churches are for.” He used the idea of separation of church and state to explain his position.

O’Donnell said school boards should be able to set policy on what students learn about the origins of life.

“Local schools do not have the right to teach what they believe?” O’Donnell asked. “Talk about imposing your beliefs on the local schools... You have just stated that you will impose your will on the local schools.” And that’s when she asked where in the constitution separation of church and state appears... prompting a lot of folks to suggest she go back to social studies class. But others say she was right, in part because the words “separation of church and state” aren’t actually in the document.

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