The court has opposed some state-sponsored prayer and religious exercises, such as prayer in public schools, but not, for example, by legislative chaplains opening up a state legislative session, he said.
Lupu said O'Donnell's point that 'separation of church and state' is not literally in the Constitution can largely be seen as a signal to her supporters.
"As soon as she says those words are not in the Constitution, people on her side know what the code is," he said. "Going back to the 1980s, this is political code for 'I think government should support religious groups.'"
O'Donnell did articulate during the debate a belief that government should partner with faith-based organizations to provide social services, while Coons favored a more cautious approach.
"I do think it is appropriate and there are times and places when we can use public dollars to support the provision of public relief, public benefit, public service through faith-based organizations but we have to carefully police that line to make sure they aren't using those resources for prosletyzing," Coons said.
Later, O'Donnell again raised the issue of the meaning of the First Amendment, pressing Coons to articulate its clauses.
"Can I ask you a question, Chris? Can you name the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment?" asked O'Donnell.
"I think the very first provision of the First Amendment is that the government shall make no establishment of religion and before we get into a further debate about which one of us knows the Constitution better, how about ... we get the panel asking our questions today," Coons replied.