Election Reflection: It’s Good That Church-State Wall Bashers Lost – But Let’s Not Get Complacent

The next few years are going to be some of the most challenging we have faced.

The British must find American politics endlessly amusing. We have a tendency to tolerate (and often elect) candidates whom I suspect would quickly be relegated to the fringes of obscurity in Europe.

Consider Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware. Have we ever had a candidate before who had to make a special TV ad to explain that she’s not a witch?

The British newspaper The Guardian noted recently that O’Donnell and two other candidates who attacked church-state separation during the campaign didn’t do very well. O’Donnell lost by a wide margin. Her fellow wall bashers – Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado – also lost, but by closer tallies.

Writer Sahil Kapur pointed out that all three candidates “made explicit attacks during the runup to the midterm elections on the separation of church and state, one of America's most cherished founding principles. Which may or may not be coincidental: all three were defeated last week in races where Republicans had strong advantages and were otherwise well poised for victory.”

Kapur quotes AU’s Barry Lynn in the piece. Barry said of the candidates, “I personally wonder if they’re discussing the U.S. Constitution or the constitution of some other planet – because they clearly don't understand it.”

I’ve thought the same thing, too – especially when I’m in a Religious Right meeting surrounded by 3,000 fundamentalists who hate the handiwork of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. I want to grab their collective shoulders and scream, “Are you people nuts? Your religion wouldn’t even exist in America if weren’t for the separation of church and state!”

So, while I’d like the think the concept is “cherished” in this nation, I am only too well aware that the church-state wall has plenty of critics. And some of them plot and scheme constantly to tear it down.

Tune into Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh or any of the other far-right blowhards who curse our airwaves or check out a Religious Right Web site and you will hear and see utter nonsense – church-state is not in the Constitution, it came from Adolf Hitler, it was never the founders’ intention, etc.

I’m also aware that while this trio of extremists was defeated, there are plenty of men and women coming into Congress who aren’t exactly card-carrying members of the ACLU, if you get my drift.

There has already been talk about reviving religious school voucher bills in Congress, and I suspect we’ll see plenty of other pot-shots at the church-state wall.

Also, it’s not getting as much attention, but far-right candidates did very well in the state legislatures as well. We could see any number of attacks on church-state separation emanating from the states.

It’s heartening that the most extreme of the wall bashers were defeated – but we are in no way out of the woods. The next few years are going to be some of the most challenging we have faced.

Brace yourself for a bumpy ride.