Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson got slammed on Sunday for saying that the U.S. should not elect a Muslim president.
"I absolutely would not agree with that," Carson told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The comments drew immediate fire from Muslim-American civil rights groups, as well as a number of Carson's fellow GOP presidential candidates. But that didn't stop the former pediatric neurosurgeon from doubling down on what some termed hate speech on Monday, when Carson said he could support a Muslim presidential candidate -- but only if that person was willing to "reject those tenets and to accept the way of life that we have and clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion."
According to Karen Dabdoub, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Cincinnati office, Carson's statements are a misrepresentation, deliberate or otherwise, of the Constitution. "Our Constitution specifically does not allow for any religious test for public office," Dabdoub told MTV News.
When asked about the comments again during his appearance in Sharonville, Ohio, on Tuesday (Sept. 22), Carson said, "Anybody of any religious faith, if they embrace American values and they place our Constitution at the top level above their religious beliefs then I have no problem with that."
Even with Carson's claims that what he said was taken out of context and that he specifically meant that he would support a Muslim candidate if they vowed to renounce Sharia law, Dabdoub said the political neophyte appears to fundamentally misunderstand Islam.
She explained that for mainstream Muslims Sharia law is similar to Jewish laws that govern how prayers are said, what holidays are celebrated and how one purifies for the practice of prayer and treats their neighbor -- not how government is run.
Dabdoub said if Carson had made the same kind of comments about any other religious or minority group -- if you substituted the word "Jew" or "Mexican-American" into the claim -- "he would be shouted out of this country immediately."
Imagine being asked to cast aside everything your religion believes in in order to be president, Dabdoub continued. "That's like asking a Christian to repudiate the life of Jesus."
Fellow Candidates Weigh In
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal reacted to Carson's comments on Monday, saying in a statement, "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."
One of the most conservative candidates in the field, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, also highlighted the words of the Constitution, telling Iowa Public Television, "You know, the Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office and I am Constitutionalist."
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, called for an immediate apology.
Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had a simple Twitter shutdown as well. "Can a Muslim be President of the United States of America? In a word: Yes. Now let's move on. -H
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's leading rival, had a similar response: "I am very disappointed that Dr. Carson would suggest that a Muslim should not become president of the United States," he wrote.
"I think that's wrong," GOP candidate Carly Fiorina told Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" on Monday night when asked about Carson. "This country was founded on the principle that we judge each individual and that anyone of any faith is welcome here. I actually believe that people of faith make better leaders... whether it's a person of Christian faith, or Jewish faith or Muslim faith... I think faith gives us humility and empathy and optimism."
Nevertheless, Carson's Muslim Stance Is Appealing To Fringe Voters
"The result is that he is appealing more and more to the most fringe elements of our society, people out there who really hate Islam and Muslims and they are coming out of the woodwork," Dabdoub said of why the response from Carson's supporters seems muted at best.
"We're receiving calls and emails full of hate," Dabdoub said, noting that her office had gotten an email on Tuesday morning that said "get out of our country."
"This is my country," she added. "So is it for every Muslim American here legally."
For more information on Islamophobia and fighting bias, head over to Look Different.