On Thursday, during a keynote address at the Air Force Academy’s National Character and Leadership Symposium, Dr. Ben Carson denounced the principle of church/state separation while putting forth a Christian Nationalist agenda that had no basis in the facts.
The neurosurgeon and former Trump-nominated Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was asked at the end of his one-hour address how God spoke to him during his darkest times. After relating the same anecdotes that he’s told many times over the years, about how he was an angry temperamental child who read the Bible and became a changed man, he segued into talking about how belief in God is the “reason that our nation excelled.”
And that led to this bizarre tangent about how we supposedly live in a Christian Nation.
… And those people who like to criticize America—and criticize people in America—and are always talking about separation of church and state—which is not in the Constitution, by the way. Do they realize that our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, talks about certain unalienable rights given to us by our Creator, a.k.a. God?
Do they realize that the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag says we are one nation under God?
That many courtrooms, on the wall, it says, “In God we Trust”?
Every coin in our pocket, every bill in our wallet, says “In God we Trust”?
So if it’s in our founding documents, it’s in our Pledge, it’s on our courts, it’s on our money, but we’re not supposed to talk about it, what in the world is that?
In medicine, we call it “schizophrenia.”
That’s a lot of ignorance packed in a short response.
Carson’s revisionist history suggests that our nation has always been Christian in spirit… based on a bunch of changes lawmakers made in the 1950s as part of a concerted pushback against the Communists in the Soviet Union.
“Under God” in the Pledge, the religious motto, and the “In God We Trust” phrase on the money have not been around for nearly 250 years. They were part of a reactionary response during the Cold War era.
The Declaration of Independence references a “Creator,” sure, but that was well before the theory of evolution offered a better explanation of our origins and (more importantly) it’s not the Constitution, which contains only a perfunctory reference to God in the date of the document. And if Carson ever got around to reading the First Amendment, he would understand why courts at every level have repeatedly interpreted the Establishment Clause to justify the principle of church/state separation.
Acknowledging church/state separation, then, doesn’t make you schizophrenic. It makes you patriotic.
Let this be a lesson to everyone: Never take history lessons from a man who once claimed the biblical Joseph built the pyramids in Egypt in order to store grain.
All of this ignores the more pressing question: Why the hell was Carson giving what amounted to a Christian sermon at an Air Force Academy event?
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s President Mikey Weinstein said in a pointed video that the National Character and Leadership Symposium is home to “an oversized amount” of Christian Nationalists, even for the Air Force Academy, which already has that conservative Christian reputation. At previous NCLS events, speakers included a vice president of Chick-fil-A and the head of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute. Weinstein added that Carson’s invitation violated the Air Force’s own policies against endorsing religion (specifically policy 2.12).
But it’s doubtful there will be any consequences here because Carson wasn’t preaching so much as spreading misinformation in the name of Jesus. It would be easy to argue he wasn’t trying to proselytize; he’s just really, really ignorant. It’s not hard to imagine, however, that a non-Christian speaker suggesting our nation was atheistic or Islamic (or anything else) at its core by citing a collection of random things would face much more backlash.
Carson is the beneficiary of a culture that never punishes conservative Christian politicians for lying to the public.