Ben Carson is doubling down on his controversial belief that a Muslim should not be elected president, telling the Hill newspaper that the commander in chief should be “sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Koran.”
The Republican hopeful sparked a firestorm on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday when he was asked if a president’s faith should matter in the wake of Donald Trump’s refusal to correct a supporter who falsely asserted President Barack Obama is Muslim.
Carson said it would matter because he does not believe Islam is consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson said. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”
The retired neurosurgeon elaborated on the issue in his interview with the Hill.
“I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” Carson said. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”
Carson and Trump are under fire over their comments about Muslims. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP)
The remarks were met with an immediate backlash, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, calling on Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.
“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “We call on our nation’s political leaders — across the political spectrum — to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements.”
Several candidates did.
“I am very disappointed that Dr. Carson would suggest that a Muslim should not become president of the United States,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “It took us too long to overcome the prejudice against electing a Catholic or an African-American president. People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz agreed.
“You know, the Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office,“ Cruz said in an interview with Iowa Public Television Sunday. “And I am a constitutionalist.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Carson to apologize to American Muslims.
“America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “He is a good doctor but clearly not prepared to lead a great nation.”
@RealBenCarson is not ready to be Commander-In-Chief. America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC)
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was less forceful in his condemnation.
“It’s not so much what religion you are; it’s what you stand for,” Paul said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “But I don’t think that we’re really anywhere near that happening because [Muslims] are a small minority in our population.
“I just think that it’s hard for us; we were attacked by people who were all Muslim,” Paul continued. “And this is what I’ve been saying all along: Civilized Islam needs to step up in a bigger way and say this doesn’t represent us. I know they do. But I don’t hear enough of it. I need to hear more of it.”
Meanwhile, Carson said that if he were in Trump’s position, he would have corrected the person who asserted Obama is Muslim.
“I certainly would not have accepted the premise of a question like that,” Carson told the Hill.
Appearing on “Meet the Press” before Carson, Trump was asked if he would comfortable if a Muslim ever became president of the United States.
“I can say that, you know, it’s something that at some point could happen,” Trump replied. “Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now. But I think it is certainly something that could happen. I mean, some people have said it already happened, frankly.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, accused both Carson and Trump of “fearmongering.”
“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,” Ellison said. “It’s unimaginable that the leading GOP presidential candidates are resorting to fearmongering to benefit their campaigns, and every American should be disturbed that these national figures are engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry.”
Trump, who led the so-called birther movement to have Obama release his birth certificate, refused to answer whether he believes President Obama was born in the United States.
“Well, you know, I don’t get into it,” the Republican frontrunner told ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday. “I think about jobs. I’m talking about the military. I don’t get into it. I mean, they ask that question and I just want to talk about [other] things, because frankly, it’s of no longer interest to me. We’re beyond that. And it’s just something I don’t talk about.”
On “Face the Nation,” Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton blasted Trump.
“I said the other day he is fueling a level of paranoia and prejudice against all kinds of people,” Clinton 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.”
Trump, she added, “wants to talk about what he would do as president. That’s obviously fair game. But to play into some of the worst impulses that people have these days that are really being lit up by the Internet and other conspiracy-minded theories is just irresponsible. It’s appalling.”