Despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution clearly states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson this weekend said that a Muslim should not be elected president of the United States. And according to a June Gallup poll, 38 percent of Americans agree.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” Carson told NBC’s “Meet the Press”on Sunday.
The statement seemed like an excellent opportunity for Carson’s fellow GOP contenders to pounce, saying his comments demonstrate he himself is not fit to be president. But the lack of immediate condemnation from some of his competitors and indirect criticism from others seems to indicate they don’t necessarily disagree with him.
Carson, a devout Christian, said he thought a U.S. president’s faith should be “consistent with the Constitution,” though he did not explain how Islam counters constitutional principles. In a follow-up interview with The Hilllater that day, Carson doubled down, saying that whomever wins the presidency should be “sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not aKoran.”
However, Carson did say he would consider voting for a Muslim for Congress, depending on “who that Muslim is and what their policies are.” Congress presently has two Muslim members, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, both Democrats.
Carson’s comments were in response to a question about the importance of a president’s faith following the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s failure to correct a supporter’s claims at a town hall last week that President Barack Obama is a Muslim and that “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” adding, “When can we get rid of them”
For his part, Trump did not condemn Carson’s comments or criticize his competitor, saying only that Carson is “speaking his opinion” and “feels very strongly about it.” For someone like Trump who does not miss an opportunity to call people out especially a close competitor the lack of criticism at least shows indulgence. He also added, referring to speculation that the current president is a Muslim, “Some people have said it already happened.”
Other Candidates Weigh In
Among the rest of the GOP field, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was the most firm, saying Carson is “not ready to be commander in chief.”
“America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion,” Graham tweeted. “@RealBenCarson needs to apologize to American Muslims. He is a good doctor, but clearly not prepared to lead a great nation.”
Other candidates deflected or did not answer heartily on whether they would have a problem with a Muslim in the White House.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich focused on ability, saying he believes “the most important thing about being president is you have leadership skills, you know what you’re doing and you can help fix this country and raise this country.”
Ted Cruz, speaking on Iowa Public Television, said “The Constitution specifies that there shall be no religious test for public office, and I am a constitutionalist.”
Rand Paul at first said “I try to see that as a separate thing someone’s religion. But I just think it’s hard for us, we were attacked by people who were all Muslim.” Though a day later added: “Article VI of the Constitution says there won’t be a religious test.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News: “I don’t believe anyone should be disqualified from the presidency because of their denomination or because of their faith. I also believe if someone believes in Sharia Law they’re not going to be elected to anything, much less the presidency.”
Carly Fiorina, on “The Tonight Show”Monday night told Jimmy Fallon: “You know, it says in our Constitution that religion cannot be a test for office. It is also true that this country was founded on the principle that we judge each individual and that anyone, of any faith, is welcome here.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Fox Business surprisingly said: “Well, there’s no religious test for a person to hold public office in America I think it would depend on the individual.I don’t think we should just disqualify somebody because of his or her faith, whether that person is a Muslim or Christian.”
Huckabee would not say whether Carson was “out of line.” “I’m not going to evaluate Ben Carson.I’m going to let Ben Carson speak for himself, I’ll speak for myself.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal initially condemned the press for asking Carson an “absurd” question, but later said he would “indulge the media” and offer a response to Carson’s comments, which weren’t much different.
“If you can find me a Muslim candidate who is a Republican, who will fight hard to protect religious liberty, who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, who will be committed to destroying ISIS and radical Islam, who will condemn cultures that treat women as second-class citizens and who will place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, then yes, I will be happy to consider voting for him or her.”
Comments Not Tolerated
Carson’s comments harken back to those of former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who said in 2012 that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet. He later met with Muslim leaders and apologized for his comments. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.”
America’s largest Muslim civil rights group said Carson’s “un-American comments” should disqualify him from the presidential contest because the Constitution forbids religious tests for holding public office.
“You cannot hold these kinds of views and at the same time say you will represent all Americans, of all faiths and backgrounds,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. “It’s interesting that an individual who is trashing the Constitution is accusing American Muslims of somehow not following the Constitution.”
Hooper told The Hillhis organization is not calling for Trump to drop out because the real estate mogul is merely displaying “run of the mill bigotry,” while Carson is calling for the “actual rejection of the clear language of the Constitution.”
Hillary Clinton warned of the dangers of the rhetoric coming from Republicans, especially Trump. “He is fuelling a whole level of paranoia and prejudice about all kinds of people,” she said. “And when you light those fires, you better recognize that they can get out of control. And he should start dampening them down and putting them out.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate Monday to “call on every Republican to denounce Dr. Carson’s disgusting remarks” and posted an emotional 350-word Facebook posting with a photo of a headstone at Arlington National Cemetery of a Muslim American soldier who died in Iraq, even saying “Shame on any person who spews such vile, hateful rhetoric.”
The nation’s two Muslim Congressmen also weighed in.
“For Ben Carson, Donald Trump, or any other Republican politician to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for office is out of touch with who we are as a people,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. “It’s unimaginable that the leading GOP presidential candidates are resorting to fear mongering to benefit their campaigns, and every American should be disturbed that these national figures are engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry.”
Rep. Andre Carson, in a radio interview with Roland Martin, summed it up nicely: “Saying that the U.S. shouldn’t elect a Muslim U.S. president is as absurd as saying we shouldn’t elect a neurosurgeon as president.”