Media Ignore Liberal Chafee's Constitutional Gaffe After Highlighting Harris Comment

Florida senatorial candidate Katherine Harris drew a voluminous amount of media attention for her recent comment that the separation of church and state is "a lie." Another Republican Senator, the liberal Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island, made this liberal error during an August 26 debate with his conservative primary opponent:

Lincoln Chafee: "Rhode Island was founded on separation of religion, separation of church and state....‘Full liberties of religious discernment,’ I think is in our charter and, uh, when we wouldn’t sign the U.S. Constitution, 1789, until we got the same liberties, the same separation of church and state, that we had here in Rhode Island, in the federal Constitution. It took us 13 months as Rhode Islanders, until we got in the First Amendment, first words of the First Amendment in the Constitution, separation of church and state."

Not only is the phrase "separation of church and state" not the first words, it’s not in the First Amendment at all. (Presumably Mr. Chafee was attempting to refer to the Establishment Clause, which is not the same thing in word or meaning.) Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s "Countdown," had this to say about Katherine Harris and her comments on August 24:

Olbermann: "Trailing incumbent Bill Nelson in her likely Republican candidacy for the Senate in Florida by 35 whole points, she`s apparently changed campaign tactics again, telling the publication ‘Florida Baptist Witness’ that separation of church and state in this country is a fallacy because, quoting her, ‘God is the one who chooses our rulers.’ Congresswoman, uh, apparently the almighty is voting for Nelson this time."

Unsurprisingly, Olbermann and the rest of the media didn’t cover the liberal Lincoln Chafee and his confused ideas as to what’s actually in the Constitution.

UPDATE: On his blog, ABC reporter Jake Tapper mocked Harris's remarks (but didn't do an on-air story). Tapper noted he reported an on-air story about poor "moderate" Chafee on August 25, the day before Chafee's goof.

A transcript of Senator Chafee’s comments, from his August 27 primary debate, are below:

C-SPAN 10:28PM EDT

8/27/06 (aired on C-SPAN on 27th. Aired on local RI affiliate on 26th)

Lincoln Chafee: "Rhode Island was founded on separation of religion, separation of church and state. And that’s why Roger Williams came here. He fled the Plymouth, uh, the Massachusetts Bay colony because he was being persecuted by the Puritans. And we have the lively experiment, the separation of church and state here. ‘Full liberties of religious discernment,’ I think is in our charter and, uh, when we wouldn’t sign the U.S. Constitution, 1789, until we got the same liberties, the same separation of church and state, that we had here in Rhode Island, in the federal Constitution. It took us 13 months as Rhode Islanders, until we got in the First Amendment, first words of the First Amendment in the Constitution: Separation of Church and State. So it’s very important."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org