Ben Carson turns Trump cabinet meeting into a Christian farce

1Ben Carson by Skidmore with lighting correctionHousing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is up to his old theocratic tricks again.

On Monday, Oct. 21, the famously pious Carson opened a White House cabinet meeting with a prayer. He showcased his constitutional ignorance by offering a superficially correct but incomplete analysis of the separation between state and church embodied in our Constitution. He started by saying it “means that the church does not dominate the state, and it means that the state does not dominate the church.” He then went on to opine that “it does not mean that they cannot work together to promote godly principles.” However, this is exactly what it means.

There are two glaring problems with Carson’s view of the First Amendment. First, it vastly undersells this foundational constitutional principle according to the entire history of Supreme Court interpretation. Second, Carson himself has repeatedly violated even the fictional standard that he invented when making this statement.

Thomas Jefferson offered the wall of separation metaphor in 1802 to explain that the First Amendment separates religion from government. Since first adopting the “separation” language in 1878 to explain the First Amendment’s religion clauses, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently applied a rule that the government must not act with a purpose of advancing or inhibiting religion, must not endorse religion, and must not become excessively entangled with religion.

While it is true that a church may not “dominate the state,” the Constitution steps in far earlier than that. Government actions that are intended to promote “godly principles” unquestionably violate long-standing Supreme Court precedent. The Constitution guarantees Americans a secular government, which is the only way to protect true religious freedom for all Americans — religious and nonreligious.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released new data showing that more than one-fourth of the U.S. population is nonreligious. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 30,000 members are largely nonreligious. We “Nones” are part of “We the People,” too. But Carson’s statement disenfranchises us, since, obviously, “Nones” do not work “to promote godly principles.” 

And Carson regularly abuses his government position to advance his personal religious beliefs. His performance on Monday was another in a long line of examples of Carson injecting his version of prayer into government event. He even participates in a regular White House bible study. If Carson really believed that this conduct was appropriate, we would expect transparency in these activities. And yet, FFRF has had to sue Carson and HUD over Carson’s refusal to provide records related to the White House bible study.

Carson’s statement about the separation between state and church is not only wrong, but also hypocritical. Americans deserve a HUD secretary who understands that as an elected official in a secular government, he or she works for We the People. Carson should use his taxpayer-funded time and resources to work to provide affordable housing for all Americans instead of abusing the opportunity to advance his personal religion.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with more than 30,000 members across the country. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public about matters related to nontheism.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via CC 3.0.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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