Ben Carson appeared on the fifth episode of EWTN News’ “Candidate Conversations 2016” last Sunday. He strongly endorsed the First Amendment Defense Act, which is great news for voters concerned about protecting religious liberty.
But then he did something else, too. And honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. You can view the whole exchange below:
After endorsing the First Amendment Defense Act and talking about the importance of religion, Carson went on to discuss his tax plan:
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.
That sure sounds like a plan to eliminate the tax-exempt status for churches and charities, forcing these non-profit organizations to pay corporate taxes on good will donations, effectively ending their charitable operations as we know it. Surely he misspoke?
Dr. Matthew J. Franck, Director of the William E. and Carol Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, asked Carson to elaborate:
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, 501(c)(3)’s 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.
Franck gave Carson an out, effectively saying “explain yourself.” But Carson doubled down:
…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…
So let’s break this down. Ben Carson apparently believes:
1.) Churches and charities shouldn’t have tax exemptions at all.
2.) If we take away churches’ tax-exempt statuses and individuals’ personal deductions for giving, people are likely to give more.
3.) Allowing churches and charities to keep their tax-exempt statuses is “garbage.”
It’s hard to write this off as Carson misspeaking when he articulated his position so very clearly. This should be of grave concern to voters concerned about religious freedom in the United States. This is far more nefarious than anything President Obama has ever said, and he is certainly no friend to religious liberty.
Jon Schweppe is Deputy Director of Communications for the American Principles Project.