Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson got a positive reception at a Wednesday town-hall event in Staten Island, New York, but was separately asked by two critical attendees to “reconcile” his campaign positions with the US Constitution and the Bible.
Hesham El-Meligy, the chairman of the Staten Island Libertarian Party, asked Carson how the Republican candidate could square his stated opposition to a Muslim president with Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution.
“It says, ‘No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,'” El-Meligy said.
Last September, Carson said in an interview that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” and that he “absolutely would not agree with that.” He later said he would be open to a hypothetical Muslim candidate who renounced Sharia law.
Carson’s answer was similar Wednesday night.
“Very easy to reconcile, actually,” Carson told El-Meligy.
The crowd cheered and clapped in approval after Carson reiterated his belief that Sharia law, a body Islamic law, was not “compatible” with the US’ constitutional values.
El-Meligy told Business Insider after the event that he was not impressed with Carson’s answer.
“I wanted to give him a chance to maybe clarify or correct his position. But he stuck to his wheels, which is clearly against the Constitution, in my opinion,” he said.
El-Meligy also said he didn’t think Carson “really understands the Constitution.”
“I don’t think he understands a lot of things,” added Hina Naveed, who said she was with the Staten Island Dream Coalition and was sitting near El-Meligy during the town hall.
Naveed pointed to the high-profile resignations that rocked Carson’s campaign the previous week. Carson lost multiple staffers on New Year’s Eve, including his campaign manager and communications director, who apparently did not get along with an outside adviser to the candidate.
“To be quite honest, I think he just kept it tame. He’s lost 20 staffers. And he needs to kind of keep it calm, generate support, try to get a bump in the polls,” Naveed said. “We wanted to hear what he has to say. We are Staten Islanders. … We heard a lot of the divisive things that he’s said.”
Another man at the event also challenged a Carson policy position: his opposition to the US accepting refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. The attendee, who said his name was Rich, recalled how the US had once turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
“Later, some of those people would be victims of the Holocaust,” he said.
Rich then cited the Bible, the text of which he suggested would support reaching out to the downtrodden refugees of today.
“How does your position against accepting these refugees of today reconcile with Matthew 25:35, in which Jesus teaches: ‘I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me water. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these [brothers and sisters of mine], you’ve done for me,'” Rich said.
Carson responded by citing his November trip to a Syrian refugee camp in neighbouring Jordan.
“Very good question and I have a very good answer for you,” Carson replied. “I went over there. I talked to the Syrians. I asked them what they would like to have, what is their chief desire. Not a single one of them said, ‘To come to America.’ They said they wanted to go back to Syria.”
After the event, Rich would only tell Business Insider that Carson’s answer had spoken for itself.
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