Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is catching flak for arguing that a person of Muslim faith should not occupy the Oval Office.
Carson, a leading Republican presidential candidate who often references his Christian faith, ignited the controversy Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Carson said Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution and that he would not “advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”
That comment infuriated at least two of Carson’s rivals in the 2016 race. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) criticised Carson at length in a subsequent Fox News interview.
“This shows that Dr. Carson is not ready to be commander-in-chief,” Graham declared. “Mr. Carson may be a good doctor but he is not ready to lead a great nation.”
Graham also argued that Carson should apologise to Muslims who serve in the US armed forces.
“What would he say to the approximately 3,500 American Muslims who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for our freedom, risking their lives?” Graham said. “What he should say is: ‘Thank you for serving our great nation. We’re all in this together.'”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), a Democratic presidential candidate, released a statement Sunday night comparing Carson’s comments to other forms of discrimination.
“I am very disappointed that Dr. Carson would suggest that a Muslim should not become president of the United States. 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 colour of their skin,” Sanders said.
The two Muslim members of Congress — Reps. André Carson (D-Indiana) and Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) — further criticised Ben Carson for his comments.
“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,” Ellison said in a statement.
“Saying the United States should not elect a Muslim president is as absurd as saying we should not elect a neurosurgeon as president. Freedom of religion is a founding principle of our nation. And for any candidate to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for public office, to me is simply asinine,” André Carson said in an NPR interview on Monday.
For his part, Ben Carson did not back off his statement after the “Meet the Press” interview. He told The Hill that that Sharia law, or the Islamic legal system based on the Koran, is simply incompatible with the Constitution.
“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.”
However, Carson told The Hill that he would be comfortable with a Muslim presidential candidate who “publicly rejected all the tenants of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”
“Then I wouldn’t have any problem,” he said.
Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager who often speaks on the candidate’s behalf, also told CNN on Monday that Carson was simply stating his personal beliefs without trying to be politically correct.
“Even if it makes CNN and others uncomfortable,” Williams said, “it is what he believes.”
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