Dr. Ben Carson appeared on the fifth episode of “Candidate Conversations 2016” last Sunday on EWTN News. This was the fifth of several interviews with 2016 candidates conducted by Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and founder of American Principles Project, and Dr. Matthew J. Franck, Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.
“Candidate Conversations 2016” is the first program of its kind — a series of televised one-on-one interviews with presidential candidates, specifically targeted to Christian voters. Professor George and Dr. Franck sat down for one-on-one discussions with the candidates on important topics including religious liberty, marriage, life, the dignity of the person, restoring prosperity and economic opportunity, education, immigration, and the struggles facing everyday Americans and their families.
You can watch a key exchange from the interview with Dr. Carson below:
Franck and Carson discussed religious liberty at length. The full transcript of their conversation is below:
FRANCK: Well, I want to come to that religious liberty question that you yourself raised already. The Catholic bishops — the bishops of the church many of our viewers here at EWTN belong to — have expressed deep concern over the future of religious liberty, especially the emerging attempt to punish those of us who believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife. Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, your own Seventh Day Adventists, and others have been threatened with their jobs, or penalized or fired from government jobs. Adoption agencies have been excluded from helping orphan children find good homes — Evangelical Lutheran Children Services, Catholic Charities, Catholic Care — these agencies have been threatened and in many cases have gone out of the adoption business. Small business owners in the wedding business have faced crippling fines, threatening them with bankruptcy for declining to facilitate same-sex ceremonies.
As Chief Justice John Roberts warned in that powerful Obergefell dissent of his, quote, ‘The Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.’ He went on, ‘There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this court. Unfortunately…’ Chief Justice Roberts said. ‘People of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.’
Now given the seriousness of these religious liberty threats, what would you do as President to protect the rights of Christians and other dissenters from the new normal on same-sex marriage? Specifically, would you seek passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, already introduced in Congress, in your first 100 days?
CARSON: The quick answer is yes, I would support the First Amendment Defense Act very strongly. I might go even much further than that because I believe this is so essential. You know, when Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831 to study this nation because the Europeans were just fascinated — how could a fledgling nation barely 50 years old be competing with them on virtually every level? — and he was going to investigate and find out what the heck was going on. One of the things that really impressed him was the churches — the fiery sermons that he heard, the fact that Americans did believe there was such a thing as right and wrong, and that religion was given such a prominent place — our faith was given a prominent place in our society. You know, we need to get back there again. But a lot of pulpits have become silenced, have become timid, because they are afraid they might lose their tax-exempt status.
Well, you know, I have a good idea I believe, and that is a tax plan where you have a flat tax and no deductions and no exemptions, and therefore, churches won’t have to worry about tax deductions because there won’t be any. But people will have a lot more money in their pockets and they will be, I believe, much more charitable under those circumstances. People have to remember that, before 1913 when we put the federal income tax in place, churches in this country were thriving. Charitable institutions in this country were thriving. I believe they will continue to thrive if we get rid of the tax exemptions and I think they will once again become those powerful voices of conscience which are so essential. If we let those voices be extinguished because of the systems we have put in place, it is going to be an everlasting tragedy, not only for this country but for the world.
FRANCK: It’s very interesting Dr. Carson that you connect the fate of America’s churches and other religious institutions to your proposed tax policy of eliminating — I take it you mean eliminating deductions that people can take from their taxes for giving to such institutions — but the churches themselves, as you know, are tax-exempt in another way, along with other nonprofits, 501c3s of various kinds as their classified under the tax code, they not only can receive tax deductible contributions from citizens and other donors, but they don’t pay any taxes themselves under corporate taxation, and also at the state and local level it’s typical for churches and other nonprofit institutions like private religious schools to have exemptions from local property taxes and other taxes that states and localities impose on them. So, it’s possible that, you know, our religious institutions — our churches themselves — could still come under assault for their own tax status quite apart from whether individuals and other donors get a tax deduction for giving to them. So this threat could still remain out there even if your tax plan were adopted.
CARSON: I think if we put the right people in office who understand all of those implications and who have an interest in making sure that we preserve the integrity of our institutions — our faith-based institutions — I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. But again, the responsibility lies with we, the people. To get rid of all these convoluted situations that have completely distorted the motives that people have for doing things. Charitable organizations exist for charity. They shouldn’t exist for other nefarious reasons. People should give because they feel motivated to give, not because they get some advantage here or some advantage there. We have so completely distorted our system that it’s become the norm, and we think things should be distorted that way. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is pervasive throughout our society right now. I totally understand why a lot of traditional people are very opposed to a candidate like myself because I don’t believe in all that garbage. I’m a strict constitutionalist, a purist in that sense, and I don’t take contributions from special interest groups or from billionaires who want to influence things. I wouldn’t do that as President — wouldn’t give them the time of day to be honest to you, because the only special interest group should be the people, and the institution and the thing that we should be looking at is the constitution, which I believe is an ingenious document. Recognize that when it was being put together at the Constitutional Convention, there was a lot of ruckus going on and it looked like there was no way in the world it was ever going to get done because everybody had such different interests, just as they do today. And it was Benjamin Franklin, the senior, the elder statesman at age 81 who got in front of that whole assembly, and he said, ‘Gentlemen, stop!’ He says, ‘During the Revolutionary War, every other phrase out of your mouth was ‘God save us.’ Now you don’t want to talk to God. He said, ‘Let us get on our knees and pray and seek wisdom from God.’ And you know, they did that. And when they got up, they were able to resolve their differences, and they were able to put together a document, which I believe was divinely inspired. We need to pay attention to that very closely and begin to once again think about what is right, what is wrong, what are the values and principles that led us from nowhere to not only the pinnacle but the highest pinnacle that the world has ever experienced. That’s what America should be about.
FRANCK: You’ve spoken very clearly, very eloquently about the importance of faith and the founding principle of freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. I’m sure this is heartening to many of our viewers. I’ll just come back one more time to this religious liberty question. Would you also favor the protection of people in commerce, people in business, who wish to conform their actions within the sphere of commerce, their business relationships, conform their actions to their religious conscience. On a question like same-sex marriage, the baker, the florist, the photographer who works in the wedding trade, are these people worthy of protecting as they decline to do same-sex marriages? Or is this, as many people say on the other side, is this just like discriminating against an interracial couple getting married? Is this just like race discrimination?
CARSON: I believe that these people are already protected by the First Amendment, but obviously there are those who are not willing to enforce the First Amendment, therefore I think there is a responsibility for Congress, supported by the President, to come up with very specifically worded legislation that will in fact protect those people, that will allow them to carry out their daily activities, to earn a living, and to live according to their faith. That was the very purpose of the very First Amendment to our Constitution. Obviously our founders were very, very sensitive to that. And for us now to turn our backs on those people, I think is an abomination. And I would clearly be extremely supportive of specific legislation that protects the ability of people to live according to their faith. Now, this opens up a can of worms because there are those who say, well, what about if their faith involves something like Sharia? Should we now protect them and their ability to live by that? I don’t think so, but that’s because I adopt the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy. In 1907, Teddy Roosevelt said we’re a nation of immigrants, and we welcome anybody from any nation from any race from any religion as long as they want to be Americans, as long as they accept our values and our principles and our laws. If they don’t accept them, then they should stay where they are.
In the first episode of Candidate Conversations 2016, Professor George interviewed Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). You can watch the full interview with Senator Cruz here.
In the second episode of Candidate Conversations 2016, Professor George interviewed former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.). Watch the full interview with Governor Huckabee here.
In the third episode of Candidate Conversations 2016, Dr. Franck interviewed former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Watch the full interview with Senator Santorum here.
In the fourth episode of Candidate Conversations 2016, Dr. Franck interviewed former Governor Jim Gilmore (R-Va.). Watch the full interview with Governor Gilmore here.
Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for the American Principles Project.