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Ben Carson Catches Heat for Cutting 'Free From Discrimination' Promise Out of HUD Mission

"You have experienced first-hand the demoralizing wounds of segregation and racism... You must bring these experiences to bear in your responsibility to uphold the duties of your office."

HUD Secretary Ben Carson

HUD Secretary Ben Carson speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is being widely condemned for plans to slash anti-discrimination language from HUD's mission statement in favor of language that emphasizes "self-sufficiency."

The revision, first reported by Amanda Terkel at The Huffington Post, was made "in an effort to align HUD's mission with the Secretary's priorities and that of the [Trump] administration," according to a March 5 memo obtained by Terkel.

The new mission statement is:

HUD's mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.

The previous version, which promoted creating "inclusive communities...free from discrimination" and is still on the agency's website, was:

HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.

HUD is not the first agency to draft a new mission statement to more accurately reflect the priorities of the Trump administration; last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was sharply criticized for cutting "a nation of immigrants" from its mission statement and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled a mission statement that abandons the bureau's previous commitment to protecting consumers from predatory corporations.

A spokesperson for HUD confirmed that "modest changes" were under consideration, but assured Terkel that "any mission statement for this Department will embody the principle of fairness as a central element of everything that we do. HUD has been, is now, and will always be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans."

However, as journalist Jamil Smith noted, the agency has never quite lived up to its previous mission of inclusive housing.

Others pointed to Carson's history of alarming remarks, such as when he infamously suggested that public housing for the nation's poor should not be "too cozy," or likened the enslavement of Africans to immigration. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, tweeted:

Noting that "Secretary Carson has a troubling history of denying that LGBTQ people encounter discrimination," Sarah Warbelow, legal affairs director for Human Rights Campaign, characterized the revision as "another effort by the Trump-Pence Administration and Secretary Carson to erase LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities from key protections and language across agencies."

"It is unconscionable," Warbelow added, "that a federal agency created, in part, to fight discrimination is being led by someone who has long denied such discrimination exists."

Some members of Congress indicated that they were unsurprised, but outraged. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that she is "demanding answers" from the agency over the "disgraceful memo."

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) called on Carson to "explain why this will not undermine and chip away at our fundamental civil rights."

National Urban League president Marc Morial sent a letter to Carson on Wednesday, imploring him to recall "the squalid conditions" of the Boston neighborhood where he was raised.

"You have experienced first-hand the demoralizing wounds of segregation and racism, and for a time, according to your spokesman, benefitted from the safety net of housing subsidy," Morial wrote to Carson. "You must bring these experiences to bear in your responsibility to uphold the duties of your office."

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