Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said Wednesday evening that mandated vaccinations against COVID-19 is “a bigger issue” than the public health merits of the jabs.
“A lot of people think it’s about vaccines and vaccinations,” he told an online audience of Seventh-day Adventists rallied to oppose such mandates.
“It’s a much bigger issue than that. Remember that many people came to this country early on, to try to escape from governments and monarchs who were always mandating things,” he explained.
Mr. Carson said, “We’re in the process of opening the door for that to occur in this country. And once you open that door, it’s very, very difficult to close that door back again.”
The former Republican presidential candidate, a lifelong Adventist Church member, said that mandates “have no place in a country that is supposed to be the land of the free where people are able to make choices.”
But, he said, “if you give people the real information, and stop trying to coerce people, or manipulate people, I have no doubt that they will make a very good decision.”
The former HUD secretary, who served the whole four-year Trump administration, said vaccines are being imposed on those with “natural immunity” to COVID-19 from having survived the disease.
“It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that people who’ve had the disease have to undergo the vaccine if they don’t want to,” he declared.
However, Mr. Carson said the vaccine can be good for elderly COVID-19 survivors and those with “co-morbidities.”
Mr. Carson’s remarks were streamed on YouTube as part of an independent “Liberty of Conscience” appeal roiling the Maryland-based Seventh-day Adventist denomination, which has 1.2 million members in the United States.
An ad hoc group of Adventist laymen and clergy called the Liberty and Health Alliance is behind the effort.
In December 2020 an official Adventist statement said the church has “no religious or faith-based reason not to encourage our adherents to responsibly participate in protective and preventive immunization programs.”
The church added that “the choice not to be immunized is not and should not be seen as the dogma nor the doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
The “Liberty of Conscience” appeal centers on Adventism’s longstanding interest in religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
The movement has long been noted for its emphasis on civil liberties, often filing friend-of-the-court briefs in free exercise cases before the Supreme Court.
Seventh-day Adventists have also had an emphasis on health as a component of their religion. The church officially advocates a vegetarian or vegan diet and operates large hospital complexes in Silver Spring and Rockville, Maryland, as well as its flagship Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California.
More than 2,300 Seventh-day Adventists who objected to U.S. military service during the period 1954-1973 volunteered for the Army’s “Operation Whitecoat” biodefense testing program based at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Thirteen important vaccines were developed through the program, an Adventist news article reported.
Mandates requiring the COVID-19 vaccines, however, have apparently split the denomination.
“Governments, locally and nationally, all around the world, are moving quickly to require or coerce their citizens to take COVID vaccinations,” the Liberty and Health Alliance website states. “Unfortunately, some of our own Adventist organizations and institutions seem to be following that lead.”
“It is time for our church to speak clearly in defending liberty of conscience on this matter,” the group asserted. “Our church has an obligation to lead in this crisis, not only for ourselves but for millions of others around the world who are looking for hope.”
The “Liberty of Conscience” petition calls on the Adventist organization “to use its influence and agencies to reject mandates or other policies that would penalize members, or discriminate against them, for their conscientious decisions to decline.”
As of Wednesday evening, more than 7,500 people are recorded as having signed the petition.
Organizers claim 460 Seventh-day Adventist pastors have also signed. If those clergy are only from North America, that would represent more than 10% of the estimated 4,400 clergy in the region.