O'Donnell Questions Separation of Church, State

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A Tea Party candidate is coming under fire for questioning the so-called separation of church and state.

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell asked her opponent during their debate Tuesday to prove that the separation of church and state is in the U.S. Constitution.

"Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?" O'Donnell asked Chris Coons.

Democrat Chris Coons quickly criticized her and pointed to the First Amendment as the audience reportedly laughed.

O'Donnell followed up by arguing that the actual phrase is not in the First Amendment.

"The First Amendment does? So you're telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase 'separation of church and state,' is in the First Amendment?"

Both candidates suggested that the exchange showed the other didn't understand the Constitution.

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The phrase "separation of church and state" is usually traced to President Thomas Jefferson. In a letter in 1802, he referred to the First Amendment and said that it built "a wall of separation between Church & State."

O'Donnell's campaign issued a statement later saying O'Donnell "was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution."

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