Carson at HUD: He Says He’ll Focus On 'Spiritual Infrastructure'

Yesterday, President-elect Donald J. Trump named Religious Right favorite Ben Carson to serve as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary.

Carson, who’s a retired neurosurgeon, has no experience with affordable housing or fair housing laws. He does have experience, however, making controversial and bizarre remarks about any number of issues, including about religious freedom.

Carson joins a host of problematic cabinet nominees.

Trump named U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general despite his lack of respect for the separation of church and state and religious minorities; pro-voucher and anti-public schools advocate Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education; U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who thinks “religious freedom” requires the repeal of regulations that ensure that more than 55 million women have insurance coverage for contraception without out-of-pocket costs.

Carson, too, has a troubling record when it comes to religious freedom. He has stated that he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate, he supports a constitutional amendment to bar marriage for same-sex couples and he supported Indiana’s divisive “religious freedom” law that was aimed at using religion as an excuse to discriminate.

How will his views play out as the Secretary of HUD? It is unclear, but in a Nov. 23 Facebook post, Carson wrote that he wants to make cities great by “ensuring that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid.” 

How can Carson impact HUD?  

What exactly does “spiritual infrastructure” mean? It might just be Carson rhetoric, but it’s troubling nonetheless because government should have no role to play in the spiritual (or non-spiritual) choices people make.

In 2003, the George W. Bush Administration made changes at HUD and many other agencies that drastically affected religious freedom. These rules allow taxpayer money to go directly to houses of worship—and even to build facilities that are used, in part, for worship services. HUD regulations also allow religiously affiliated organizations to accept federal contracts and grants and discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion with those federal dollars.

Carson’s promise to build “spiritual infrastructure could be aided by these Bush-era rules, which flout core church-state separation principles and thus, provide grants to churches and to put up buildings that can be used for religious services. That would be alarming.

As HUD Secretary, Carson would also be in charge of enforcing rules that ensure equal access to housing programs regardless of characteristics such as race, religion, sex, familial status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Carson, though, has a long record of extremely controversial views that call into question his ability to do this:  He’s criticized a HUD rule designed to further desegregation, for example, and exhibited hostility to LGBTQ individuals and religious minorities.

Americans United will stand against any of Carson’s HUD policies or practices that would violate church-state separation or result in religious discrimination.