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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  • Larry Linn

    Social commentator and former alter-boy George Carlin sums it up, “Think
    about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man
    living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And
    the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.
    And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and
    smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and
    suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of
    time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs
    money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just
    can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes,
    and they always need a little more.”

  • Larry Linn

    “This nation of ours was not founded on Christian principles.”
    — John Adams

    “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind
    and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”— James Madison, letter to William
    Bradford, 1771

    “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish,
    Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to
    terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”- Thomas
    Paine

    “It would disturb me if there is a wedding between the
    religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no
    interest in religion except to manipulate it.” – Rev. Billy Graham,
    Parade, 1981

    “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and
    carrying a cross.” — Sinclair Lewis

    “Question
    with boldness even the existence of a god.” –
    Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787)

  • Butch1

    There have been same sex “blessings” in the catholic church in the 6th-7th centuries documented. So these revisionists are full of it.

  • Butch1

    I think you may be right. He needs to be checked to see if there is something organically wrong with his brain. He is definitely NOT making any sense. I’m glad he’s not doing any surgery.

  • Butch1

    There is definitely something wrong with his thinking process and I think his religion has had a major influence with it.

  • Butch1

    How many theocrats are the republicans running this year? They either have dim-wits, dynasty-dim-wits or theocratic-dimwits. Not a lot from which to choose in their clown car.

  • dcinsider

    So many christians, so few lions.

  • No, we get to shoot them.

  • slavdude

    Yeah! Christians get the right to impose themselves on everyone else, and we get to walk around with weapons plainly in view!

    (Agreeing with you here, of course.)

  • Something I said to my wife the other day: “Carson is just a few decibels away from being that crazy guy who wanders public parks mumbling incoherently to himself.”

  • crawdaddy

    I don’t care if he went to an Ivy League School, he is an idiot today and he was an idiot 4 years ago. He is clueless as to how this country even runs. And one other thing I love to ask: how many white republicans let him operate on their child’s brain? If you talking upper middle class white republicans – the answer is – I am certain – zero. Can’t operate on little Johnny but they are fine with him being president.

  • Like I keep saying, I still think there’s something medically wrong with Carson. He sounds nothing like he did four years ago and sounds even less like the bright and verbally articulate guy I remember seeing on TV years before that. He seems now to struggle to find the words to say what he means to say and his emotional affect has become robotic, disengaged, and self-absorbed. While I have always disagreed with his politics, he didn’t used to sound and look like he does now. But anyway…

    It should be obvious to any with critical thinking capabilities that what Carson is advocating is indeed Christian privilege — but let’s be clear here: He means only fundamentalist/evangelical Christians.

    In the 1960s, many progressive Christian churches opposed the Vietnam war and sought conscience exemptions for their followers. Many of those followers found themselves in jail for resisting the draft and the Sanctuary movement was constantly under assault from the law — forms of oppression supported by the fundamentalist whose position it was that America was supposed to conquer and convert other nations. Same thing when African Americans sought civil rights protections — it was the fundamentalists who cited their own Bible as justification for continued legal oppression, segregation, and racial prejudice, even though the progressive Christians could easily point to far more tolerant, compassionate teachings and commands from that Jesus fellow.

    In the 1970s and with increasing numbers in the decades following, progressive Christian churches began to embrace and welcome gay people. First into their congregations and later even solemnizing relationships in marriage ceremonies. Meanwhile the fundamentalists continued to insist on the outright legal persecution of gays and lesbians, and fought tooth-and-nail to keep their sodomy laws.

    In the 2000s, when many progressive Christian churches opposed the Bush/Cheney wars, a number of the bloodthirsty fundamentalist ones called on the government to rescind the progressive Churches’ tax exempt status. But the political lobbying on the part of the right-wing religious types was, of course, off limits.

    “Religious liberty for me, but not for thee” is now and always has been the credo of the fundamentalist, imperialistic form of Christianity. Then, when they gain primacy over all other systems of belief (including the rejection of organized religion), they start fighting among themselves as to which is the One True Religion.

    Carson isn’t doing anything the rest of the fundies are: He’s saying his system of beliefs rises to the level of Constitutional protections and legal enforcement, but nobody else’s does. Opposition to LGBT rights and women’s rights are commonly fundamentalist Christian beliefs — so that apparently deserves accommodation. But if you’re a progressive/liberal Christian and point to your beliefs and practices as reasons for supporting LGBT and women’s rights? No accommodation there.

  • Carson and those who insist the United States was ‘founded on Judeo-Christian principles’ is full of it as well for a couple reasons.

    One: Jews were most certainly not any part of the original founding leadership. The ‘Judeo’ part was never more than tacked on, and Jews did suffer from rather systematic antisemitic oppression right from the start. It didn’t really change until after WWII.

    Two: There was, at the time of America’s founding, a significant ‘Deist’ movement — one where its followers did explicitly believe in a monotheistic deity, but they threw away nearly everything associated with Christianity itself, including the Bible which was deemed to have been corrupted by the hands and minds of selfish, self-serving men. Basically, it was a belief that God did cause the cosmos to come into being, then left everything alone to develop naturally. It’s a framework that could easily accept concepts like evolution and a universe billions of years old.

    And thirdly, if one were even to accept this ‘founded on Judeo-Christian principles’ stuff, it is a tacit admission that the indigenous peoples who were living in this hemisphere before the Europeans showed up were conquered and subjected to cultural, religious, and at times literal genocide.

    But yes, you’re right: Christianity itself became so fractured over the centuries, its separate sects argued quite vehemently that only THEIR version was true Christianity and nobody else was. We further see this in the assertions of some of the more radical fundamentalist Christian sects in that they claim it is a requirement not just of their variant version, but Christianity itself that requires them to believe and behave according to bigoted notions. As I’ve pointed out a number of times now, dating back as early as the 1970s, there were progressive Christian churches performing same-sex marriage solemnization ceremonies. But their progressive, inclusive, tolerant Christian beliefs didn’t rise to the level of being respected by or enforced by the law.

    Thus even the ‘-Christian’ part of Judeo-Christian isn’t anything like inclusive of all the various forms of Christianity. Just the fundamentalist parts. And when they start getting their way, being permitted to force others through civil law to follow their beliefs, history shows that in time, they eventually start squabbling among themselves (sometimes to the point of actual war) as to whose practices get to be enforced in their theocratic system of government.

  • Don Chandler

    Jefferson really liked John Locke. And Locke had this point:

    (3) Coercing religious uniformity would lead to more social disorder than allowing diversity.[20] (wiki)

    Locke was also a Christian but understood how one sect could dominate another. All three of his points are interesting, especially Today–good homework for us all. The “Religious Liberties” movement is an attack on The First Amendment…and The First Amendment ain’t broke and shouldn’t be fixed by anyone or polluted by Carson.

  • marknc

    Perfectly stated. As far as I’m concerned, any “Christian” who accepts what Carson says is not an actual Christian.

  • nicho

    Ben is one of those people I refer to as “people with no friends.” Really, he needs someone close to him to take him by the arm and stop him from embarrassing himself. Why do his friends, if he has any, leave him twisting in the wind like this. It’s like when a demented person tries to leave the house with his underpants over his trousers. Someone needs to kindly stop him.

  • LasloPratt

    Actually, the foundation of our laws is rooted in the Code of Hammurabi. So Babylonians should get extra First Amendment protections.

  • That’s fair, I guess, if we can get preference with “2nd Amendment solutions.”

  • MoonDragon

    Is it for all Christians, or only the correct type of Christians. I know a lot of people who maintain that Catholics, Mormons, and Unitarians don’t qualify. And they aren’t too sure about Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans. Presbyterians are on the cusp, too.

  • The_Fixer

    People like Ben Carson and Kim Davis are terribly confused about one thing – the European settlers of this country may have been Christian (such as the Puritans), but our government is not.

    The future states had set up state religions. When it came time form the union, it was decided that there would be no state religion. Why? The former colonies all had conflicting state religions and it was simply not practical for the union to accommodate these various state religions. As a condition of joining the union, these future states were required to drop their state religions. Their governments were required to conform to the national model of accommodating religions, but not establishing a government based on any one religion.

    People like Carson are confusing the settlers with the founders. It’s a ridiculous mistake to make; they’ve forgotten, or never learned, the history of the country.

    Anyone who can’t get this right, no matter what the reason, is not qualified to run for any office of consequence (and some might argue, even the inconsequential ones). In the case of Ben Carson, I really think he is just not reasoning right. Whether that’s because of dementia or some other illness, or he’s just plain dumb, does not really matter. He’s not qualified if he does not know one of the basic elements of this country’s founding.

  • Immortal Illumined

    “The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.” -Thomas Jefferson

  • retiredeng

    Carson really is that ignorant of our country’s Constitution. And he’s not alone.

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