In an appearance on Meet the Press, Carson said Islam was incompatible with the U.S. Constitution.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.
However, Carson said he would have no problem with a Muslim running for a Congressional seat.
“Congress is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just like it depends on what anybody else is,” Carson said. “If there’s somebody who is 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.”
There has already been a widespread backlash to Carson’s comments. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, accused Carson of being bigoted and intolerant.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was even more upset. On Monday they demanded Carson 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,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad. “We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”
However, Carson isn’t the first Republican to make anti-Muslim comments. In 2012, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim to a cabinet-level position. He later backtracked from that comment. In 2011, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also a candidate for the GOP nomination, faced criticism for appointing Sohail Mohammed to serve as a judge in Passaic County. Blogger Pamela Gellar accused Christie of “being in bed with the enemy.”
But not everyone condemned Carson’s comments. Fox and Friends co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Elisabeth Hasselbeck both defended Carson. Hasselbeck said Carson was just being a “real person.” Kilmeade said Carson was expressing his personal opinion.
“That’s how he feels — he would not vote for a Muslim,” Kilmeade said. “It doesn’t mean they should not run. It doesn’t mean the rest of America can’t vote for a Muslim.”