Ben Carson suggests First Amendment is for Christians first, others second

Earlier, I asked if Ben Carson was OK. And despite (or perhaps because of) his continued rise in the polls, I still have my doubts. Appearing on The Kelly File last night, Carson appeared to be genuinely confused about the concept of religious freedom, suggesting that because Christians founded America (they didn’t), Christians get first dibs on First Amendment protections.

As Carson said:

This is a Judeo-Christian nation, in the sense that a lot of our values are based on a Judeo-Christian faith…There are a substantial number of people who support traditional marriage, and I’m one of them…

…This is where some intellect needs to take place. Our legislators need to sit down and ask themselves whether the rights of all Americans are protected. It requires a little bit of effort.

Carson also insisted that he’s all for religious freedom — he isn’t about to force his way of life on anyone else so long as they don’t force him to do the same.

Except he is. That’s exactly what Kim Davis’s defenders are doing — forcing their way of life on those who don’t agree with them, in direct violation of the Supreme Court, their state governments and the general public. You can say whatever you want about “the rights of all Americans,” but if you’re defending a public official who denied Americans their rights due to her religious beliefs, you’re elevating her beliefs above those of everyone else.

As Kelly pointed out those who would defend Davis have set up an all-too-slippery slope in redefining religious freedom as being able to not do anything you don’t want to do no matter what, regardless as to your job’s requirements and regardless as to your role as a public official. In this framework, Catholic officials could refuse to process divorces, and Muslim or Jewish officials could refuse to issue marriage licenses to interfaith couples.

By conjuring up the image of the Founders as Christian missionaries founding American in the name of Jesus, using their supposed devotion to the faith as the inspiration for the First Amendment, Carson makes plain what has been thus far only implied by religious conservatives since the Obergefell ruling. As I’ve written before, these concerns over religious freedom have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with Christian privilege. If they didn’t, Carson would have no problem with public officials of other faiths refusing to act in accordance with their duties and denying him what would otherwise be noncontroversial rights. But he — and the rest of Kim Davis’s defenders — don’t want to go there. They just want to stay at the top of the cultural hierarchy.

Faced with this objection from Kelly, Carson was (predictably) stumped. Sounds like “some intellect needs to take place,” whatever that means.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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