The Washington Post

Ben Carson courts controversy, draws praise at a Md. legislative prayer breakfast

Ben Carson speaks at the Maryland Legislative Prayer Breakfast in Annapolis, Friday, March 8, 2013. (Kate Havard/The Washington Post)

Ben Carson, the prominent neurosurgeon with Johns Hopkins University who made headlines last month at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, shared his disdain for political correctness with Maryland lawmakers during an event Friday in Annapolis.

“We are moving further and further away from God,” Carson said at an annual Legislative Prayer Breakfast held near the State House. “God is becoming politically incorrect in our nation. ... You live in a society today where we have the secularists and the people who fear God.”

Carson recounted how he was once prohibited from putting up a sign for his scholarship fund in a public school because its motto contained the word “God” and was told this violated the First Amendment.

“But the First Amendment also says there can be no government suppression of religious expression,” Carson said. “That was not a part of the deal when this country was envisioned. It was to be a place where there could be freedom of expression, freedom of thoughts.”

Exercising his freedom of expression Friday morning, Carson went on to say that the institution of slavery was America’s “mistake” but that “there is no one alive today who is a slave and no one alive today who is a slave owner. ... At some point you need to get over it, and move on.”

In Washington last month, with President Obama sitting a few feet away, Carson made remarks advocating for freer markets in the health-care system and for a Biblically-inspired flat tax.

After that event, some praised Carson for speaking candidly, while others criticized him for bringing politics into an event that is traditionally apolitical.

In Annapolis, Carson’s remarks touched on many of the same themes, including the importance of education reform and the follies of political correctness.

Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (D-Baltimore) said afterward that Carson’s remarks “totally missed the point” and ignored “institutionalized racism.”

“It’s not merely slavery,” Tarrant said. “So much of the conditions of blacks is because of Jim Crow and segregation. In Baltimore, there was a movie theater that didn’t become available for blacks until 1963. Brown versus Board of Education was in ‘54, so you have blacks who are still alive and are quite young who experienced segregation.”

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D- Prince George’s) said he too found Carson’s remarks “challenging” but also “courageous.”

“I don’t agree with everything he said, but I believe we have a right to express ourselves,” Muse said. “I think that was the heart of his message.”

Carson’s remarks in February led to several television appearances and also to speculation about Carson’s political future.

Since the National Prayer Breakfast, he has been tapped to speak at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference next week, which will be held at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, where he will appear alongside Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R- Fla.).



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