Witch's Brouhaha: Is Christine O'Donnell Right about the First Amendment, Mice and Men?

"Where in the Constitution is 'separation of church and state'?"

The laughter erupted in the lecture hall, as if this were the studio of the comedy show Politically Incorrect and not a debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees for U.S. Senate in the state of Delaware.

The media had a field day with Republican nominee Christine O'Donnell's question about the First Amendment. Comedian Bill Maher charged that Christine O'Donnell must think that the First Amendment has nothing to do with religion. Rachel Maddow, the popular liberal commentator, added, incredulous, when she replayed the O'Donnell quote, "She thinks she's just won." With the impatient imperiousness of an Oxfordshire schoolmarm, O'Donnell's Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, lectured, "The First Amendment, the First Amendment establishes...that there is a separation of church and state that our courts and our laws must respect."

Unfortunately, you don't win debates by stating the truth. The reality is that Christine O'Donnell is correct, and Maher, Maddow, and Coons are wrong.

The Constitution in Article 6 and the First Amendment give very specific mandates. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote about "a wall of separation" in a letter to some Baptists, but that letter does not have the force of law, and was not part of any court proceeding at the time. The letter was cited only decades later, in an 1878 Supreme Court decision outlawing polygamy by Mormons.

Polygamy, the court argued, was something so odious it could only be found in Africa and Asia, until the Mormons started practicing it. The government was not oppressing a religion by banning polygamy, but upholding the civilization of "the northern and western nations of Europe". The gist of the 1878 decision was that the government could ban polygamy, a religious practice, since the First Amendment simply does not apply.

More significantly, George Washington repeatedly declared days of Thanksgiving to God as early as 1789. "The senate and House of Representatives of the United States," proclaimed President James Madison in 1815, "have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace." So at best the Founding Fathers were of two minds concerning church and state, not to mention the use of commas.

Christine O'Donnell has also taken flak for claiming that scientists are creating "mice with fully-functioning human brains." "Fully-functioning" may be the wrong term―perhaps Ms. O'Donnell was thinking of that Tasha Yar/Data Star Trek episode―but in fact researchers in California are creating human-mouse hybrids, with a specific mandate that if the mice start acting like humans, the researchers will stop. So that means the scientists think it's possible they might succeed, not just O'Donnell.

Indeed, Dr. Irving Weissman created mice whose brains consisted of 1% human neurons in some regions. If 1%, why not 10%? Making a mouse with even a partially-functioning human brain would be an abomination―and killing one possibly murder.

Christine O'Donnell was right about the First Amendment, and knee-jerk liberals mock her warnings about mice and men at their―and our―peril:

After all, you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

Professor Jonathan David Farley is a member of The Warren Group (www.thewarrengroup.biz), advisors to the Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.