The Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has said no Muslim should be president of the United States of America.
In an interview with NBC for broadcast on Sunday morning, the retired neurosurgeon said: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Carson’s discussion with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd centered around controversy that arose this week when Donald Trump – the real-estate mogul keeping Carson in second place in the polls – failed to correct an audience member at a New Hampshire campaign rally who said President Obama was a Muslim.
The audience member also appeared to advocate the forcible removal of Muslims from the US.
On Saturday, in a series of tweets on the subject, Trump defended himself and said: “Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so!”
He also addressed the issue in an appearance before an evangelical audience in Iowa, at which he brandished a Bible and said: “You see, I’m better than you thought.”
In such circles, Trump has lost some support to Carson.
In his NBC interview, Carson was asked: “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?”
“No,” he said, “I don’t, I do not.”
Article VI of the US constitution states: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
The first amendment to the constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Carson, a Christian, is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In October, he will publish a new book, written with his wife Candy Carson and entitled A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.
In publicity material issued by Penguin Random House, Carson is quoted as saying: “I believe that making a difference starts with understanding our amazing founding document, the US Constitution.
“And as someone who has performed brain surgery thousands of times, I can assure you that the Constitution isn’t brain surgery.
He adds that he and his wife wrote the book to “help defend” the constitution “from those who misinterpret and undermine it”.
Carson did have a constituency to speak to, however. In a recent poll, 38% of voters said they would not vote for a Muslim president.
The Ohio governor John Kasich, who is polling an average of 2.5%, enough for 10th place out of 16, was also asked by NBC if he “would ever have a problem with a Muslim becoming president”.
Kasich, one of the more moderate candidates in the GOP field, also had to field a question about whether he was a Republican at all. He did not say he would have a problem with a Muslim president, but nor did he dismiss the question.
“You know, I mean, that’s such a hypothetical question,” Kasich said. “The answer is, at the end of the day, you’ve got to go through the rigours, and people will look at everything.
“But, for me, 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. Those are the qualifications that matter to me.”
Carson was also asked if he would consider voting for a Muslim candidate for Congress.
He said: “Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what they’re policies are, just as it depends on what anybody else says, you know.”
Two members of Congress, both Democrats, are Muslim: Keith Ellison of Minnesota was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007 and André Carson of Indiana followed in 2008.
This week, Ellison carried a clock around Congress to show support for Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old boy who was arrested at his school in Irving, Texas over suspicions a homemade clock was in fact a bomb.
On Sunday Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, released a statement in answer to Carson’s comments.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the 114th Congress contains 491 Christians, of which 306 are Protestant, split between 13 sects though without any declared Anabaptists, Quakers or Pietists.
Another 164 members of Congress are Catholic, while 16 are Mormon and five Orthodox Christian. As well as the two Muslims there are 28 Jewish and two Buddhist members of Congress; there is one Hindu member, one Unitarian Universalist and one “unaffiliated”.
Nine members of Congress either told the Pew researchers they didn’t know what religion they were, or refused to answer the question.
On Meet the Press, Carson continued: “And, you know, if there’s somebody who’s of any faith, but they say things, and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed, and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them.”
Asked if he believed President Obama was both born in the US – another issue raised at the Trump rally on Thursday and not rebutted by the candidate – and a Christian, Carson said: “I believe that he is. I have no reason to doubt what he says.”