Carson urges religious activists to stand up for faith

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Detroit native and GOP presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson told a conference of conservative and religious activists Friday that people of faith need to trust God and not be ashamed to stand up for what they believe.

“We must stand up for what American really is,” Carson said. “I know that President Obama said we’re not a Judeo-Christian nation, but he doesn’t get to decide. We get to decide.”

Many in the audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel ballroom got to their feet to applaud the retired neurosurgeon after his 15-minute address.

Carson spoke Friday morning at the Road to Majority Conference, sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition whose founder Ralph Reed is former head of the the Christian Coalition.

Carson began by asking the audience to observe a moment of silence to remember the nine people fatally shot this week at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of the victims, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, was the cousin of Carson’s longtime adviser and business manager, Armstrong Williams.

“These things hit so close to home, and if we don’t pay close attention to the hatred and the division that’s going on in our nation, this is just a harbinger of what we can expect,” Carson said.

He is in the sixth week of his first campaign for public office and polling just behind former Floria Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the GOP field, according to an average of polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics.

The 63-year-old grew up in Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School before spending the bulk of his career in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He retired in 2013.

Carson joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a child and often speaks on the campaign trail of the role that faith has played in his personal and professional lives, including helping him rein in a violent temper in his youth.

He told the story Friday of a couple who had brought him their son, who had a malignant brain tumor. Despite a poor prognosis, the parents repeatedly told Carson that “the Lord will heal our son.”

Carson said he shook his head. But during a second surgery, he found the nature of the child’s tumor had changed. The boy eventually walked out of the hospital, and “today, he’s a minister,” he said. That changed him, Carson said.

“I thought I was doing everything. I thought I was really hot stuff. After that, I said, ‘Lord, you be the neurosurgeon, I’ll be the hands,’” he said, noting the inspiration for his memoir, “Gifted Hands.”

Carson said he speaks out “vehemently” against political correctness because of those who fought for the right to freedom of speech and expression. Too many Americans have been shamed into silence, he said.

“It’s going to really come down to this: Are we willing to be called a name? To get the IRS up on it? To have someone mess with your job or your children?” Carson said.

“You have to fight for freedom every single day, and it’s not something that we’re going to be able to pass on to our children if we neglect to do that.”

Juanita Eads, a retiree from Leesburg, Florida, said she found Carson’s message inspiring. She first heard of Carson in 2013 after his breakthrough speech at the National Prayer Breakfast where he criticized Barack Obama.

“He’s a God-fearing man, and we need more of him in our government,” said Eads, a member of the Tri County Tea Party in central Florida.

The next president “needs to put God first and the people next and not be self-serving,” she added.

Eads said she hasn’t decided yet to vote for Carson or for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was also speaking at the conference.

Outside the ballroom, volunteers for a pro-Carson political action group called the 2016 Committee handed out copies of a paperback, “Ben Carson Rx for America.”

Sam Pimm, executive director of the committee, a super PAC independent of the Carson campaign, said “The biggest challenge we face is there’s still a very large number of people who don’t know who Ben Carson is.”

“For him to be running so well in the polls when half the people don’t know who he is, is a remarkable thing. We’re encouraged by that because if we do our job and make people aware of who is Ben Carson, his support is only going to go up.”

A watchdog group called the American Democracy Legal Fund this week sent a complaint to the Federal Election Commission alleging that Carson’s campaign has been soliciting contributions for a different super PAC called One Vote PAC in violation of campaign finance laws. The group cited comments made by Doug Watts, a spokesman for the campaign, in the Washington Post.

“Neither Dr. Carson nor myself have ever solicited any contributions to any super PAC, directly or indirectly,” Watts said by email Friday. “The complaint is frivolous and without foundation.”

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