What If Ben Carson Had Declared Jews or Catholics Unfit for the Presidency?


September 20, 2015; CNN

As a newcomer and outsider to the electoral process, sometimes Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t speak with clarity. In one recent interview, Carson admitted that he believed that a Muslim should not and could not become President of the United States. He then said he could contemplate Muslims as legitimate candidates for Congress. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t make that distinction. It says that there should be no religious test for candidates for public office, period.

Carson tried to modify his anti-constitution position on a Muslim in the White House later on, implying that he wouldn’t vote for a Muslim for president, but that wasn’t his original contention. As an amateur politician, Carson can possibly be forgiven for having misspoken, if that is what he thinks he did, but as a potential President of the United States, words matter, especially when directed against an entire potential class of people who might consider running for public office.

Those who listened to Carson’s exclusion of Muslims from the White House might have heard echoes in their heads of the bigoted critics of the election of John F. Kennedy, who, as a Catholic, they imagined taking his orders from the Holy See. It would have been easy to insert “Mormon” or “Jew” or “Buddhist” or “atheist” into Carson’s statement, replacing “Muslim,” and the interpretation of the Constitution would have been no less absolutely incorrect. It takes little to imagine that had Carson said “Catholic” or “Jew” instead of Muslim, he would have been frog-marched right out of the campaign by GOP elders, but no such thing happened with a statement about Muslims being ineligible for the presidency. In current American public opinion, it is sadly acceptable, even popular, to declare Islam as inherently anti-American.

Carson suggested that a Muslim in the White House might be prone to follow sharia law or, worse, impose sharia on the entire nation. That’s comparable to suggesting that a Catholic should not be president because of the Catholic Church’s roots in the decision of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE or the conclusions of the Vatican Council, or that a Jew is disqualified from the highest office because of the Torah and the Halakah. The reverb from Carson’s statement was loud and clear, except that he got away with it because he was excluding Muslims as legitimate presidential candidates.

Think back to the bombing of the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City by right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh. The knee-jerk reaction was that Muslims must have done it. Initially, that mistaken belief preoccupied the media and the public until specific information about McVeigh began to seep into the news. Why? Because Islamophobia has been a strong current in the nation for a very long time. The public jumps to the conclusion that mass violence is connected to Islam, an ingrained fear in this country, and that ends up justifying the public’s giving Carson a pass for excluding Muslims from Constitutional protection in elections.

When the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on Carson to withdraw from the presidential campaign, it wasn’t because he was the sole Islamophobe running for office. Much of what the candidates say about Muslims is cringe-worthy at a minimum. Carson’s Islamophobia is of a different order. If Carson had simply called on voters not to vote for Muslims, as abhorrently racist as that is, it wouldn’t have been a cause to declare him disqualified as a potential president. Carson’s official position contradicts the clear meaning of the Constitution.

That is basically what CAIR told Nonprofit Quarterly in a statement received by email on Friday:

We find it interesting that Dr. Carson seeks to use a federal government agency to silence his critics and wonder if that tactic would be used to suppress First Amendment freedoms should he become president.

CAIR is not in violation of any IRS regulation in that we did not “participate in” or “intervene in” any political campaign. We, as mandated by our mission as a civil rights organization, merely expressed the opinion of our community that a candidate whose views violate Article VI of the Constitution is unfit for public office.

Don’t think this is problem is just Carson declaring Muslims disqualified to run for president or Donald Trump failing to correct or challenge a questioner who declared Muslims the problem in America, abetted by a purportedly Muslim Obama in the White House. In a CNN op-ed, attorney Eric Lewis noted that more than half of Republican voters still harbor the birther myth that Obama is a Muslim, but, he challenged, “So what if people think the president is a Muslim? He is not; he is a practicing Christian, but the religion of our candidates is not a political issue.”

Carson might have wanted to consider that someone might have inserted “Seventh Day Adventist” in place of Muslim and declared the Baltimore neurosurgeon ineligible for the presidency. Aaron Griffith, a doctoral student at Duke Divinity School, wrote for the Religion News Service about the history of discrimination against followers of Carson’s religion to the point where the Adventists became part of the original group of founders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Many commentators have revived the statements that JFK made when he was running for president that made the issue crystal clear:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

It might be surprising, but CAIR’s analysis is virtually identical to the analysis of conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer. Citing Carson’s contention that Islam is incompatible with the Constitution, Krauthammer was crystal clear in his response:

On the contrary. Carson is incompatible with a Constitution that explicitly commands that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Ever. And it is no defense of Carson to say that he was not calling for legal disqualification of Muslims, just advocating that one should not vote for them. That defense misses the point: The Constitution is not just a legal document. It is a didactic one. It doesn’t just set limits to power; it expresses a national ethos. It doesn’t just tell you what you’re not allowed to do; it also suggests what you shouldn’t want to do.

CAIR’s statement was not an electoral intervention. It was a Constitutional intervention, pointing out that Carson had disqualified himself for the presidency by contradicting the clear meaning of the U.S. Constitution that there should be no religious test for the presidency or any other elected office in this nation.

For those who think that CAIR violated its 501(c) tax status, consider the “facts and circumstances” of CAIR’s action. CAIR had not intervened against the coterie of Islamophobes running for office, but a candidate who had established a political test for eligibility for the presidency. CAIR’s position and statement declared Carson “unfit for public office” amidst the facts and circumstances of explaining to the American public the meaning of a key provision of the Constitution. It ought to be clear that a statement of fundamental civil rights embedded in the Constitution is categorically different than a partisan electoral intervention for or against Carson, Trump, or anyone else.

The question returns again to the nonprofit sector and its core commitment to the principles of American democracy. Where are those in the nonprofit sector who are willing to stand up for CAIR and for CAIR’s defense of a fundamental tenet of the Constitution?—Rick Cohen

  • Chris King

    Dr. Ben was very specific about what he said. He made it very clear he did not care what Religion an individual running for President may be. He said, if you put Religion above the Constitution, he would not want to see that person in the White House. He did not say he would not vote for a Muslim. He said he would not vote for a Muslim that would put Sharia above the Constitution.

  • Karen Jane

    Yes, Dr. Carson WAS very specific when he said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,”. The statement below that Chris King reports is what Carson said in trying to back pedal on his original and very offensive comments. Our US Constitution specifically does not allow for a religious test or exclusion for public office. Period. To say or imply differently is shockingly un-American and an assault not only on our Constitution but also on our national ethos and culture. To go down that road is to open up the slippery slope all the way down to the bottom, ultimately to facism.

  • cairbuster

    On November 17, 2014, the United Arab Emirates cut all its financial support to CAIR and listed CAIR as being a terrorist organization.

  • cairbuster

    As a Muslim myself, I admire Mr. Carson and his association with the Seventh-Day Adventists. Seventh-Day Adventists struggle for inclusion was organic. Unlike this so called “Muslim advocacy group” here in the US, Seventh-Day Adventists didn’t solicit finances, for seed money, from despots like Al-Saud, so they can fund their agent-provocateurs to canvass the streets to entrap unsuspecting legitimate businesses.
    As a Muslim myself, I don’t blame Mr. Carson one bit for his perception of Islam. Mr. Carson only knew Islam through the savagery of Bakris (Sunnis) or idiots like Khomeini and Khamenei. Many people wrongly associate Khomeini and Khamenei with Shi’ism. Khomeini was a Batri and was closer to the Muslims Brotherhood ideology than being a Shia. And the Muslim Brotherhood movement is a Bakri movement. Bakri (counterfeit Islam), is a dogma that was concocted by a line of despots and tyrants for the purpose of forcing the masses to submit to their dictatorships. The worst part of the whole thing is that most of these lies about Islam and about the Holly Prophet of Islam were concocted by historic terrorists, murderers, habitual and pathological liars, the likes of Aisha, Abu Bakir, Omar, Hafsa, Anas bin Malik, Abu Huraira and many more. What is even worse is the fact that, to this day, hundreds of millions of so called Muslims, including most of the cadres of this so called “Muslim advocacy group” here in the US, that started this campaign against Mr. Carson, to this day revere, admire and strive to emulate the above named historic terrorists, murderers and pathological liars.

  • YoshiNakamura

    Carson did NOT contradict the Constitution! The Constitution prohibits the government from requiring a religious test for office, but it in no way prohibits voters from using whatever test they please. Also, keep in mind that the Islamic religious authorities themselves tell us that Islam is NOT a religion like other religions because it is a “complete way of life”, a “complete code of life” and “a comprehensive ideology” that regulates all of society. Islam is not merely a religion, but also an ideology — totalitarian and imperialist. That is all anchored firmly in sharia law which all Moslems are required to follow — even if many, or most, don’t follow the jihadist aspect of sharia law. Carson is absolutely correct to want to exclude Moslems from office unless they renounce sharia law. The Islamic religious authorities tell us that there is an irreconcilable conflict between loyalty to Islam and loyalty to America. We should listen to them, and not to ignorant journalists like the one who wrote this article.

  • Dajjal

    Unlike Dr. Ben Carson, I will not knowingly vote for a Muslim for any high office, local, state or Federal. Islam must dominate and be superior. Islam is violent and intolerant by design. Muslims are obligated to wage war against us and promised great reward for any step taken to injure or enrage us. If in doubt, read “What’s Wrong With Islam & Muslims?”.

    Dr. Carson did not propose legislation barring Muslims; he said he would not support one. He did not thereby violate Art. 6.

    Would you vote for a Klansman, Mafiosi or Nazi? But Muslims are worse; obligated to obey Allah and emulate Moe. If you are unfamiliar with Allah’s imperatives and Moe’s exemplification of them read the Qur’an and Sahih Bukhari; get a clue.

    Before asserting that Muslims do not believe or do not follow but selectively, read Surah Al-Baqarah 2.85 and Surah At-Taubah 9.38 & 39.

  • Mitch Reed

    Chris is certainly correct. The Doctor was expressing his opinion in considering a particular candidate for office, not declaring any form of religious test. He simply feels anyone who can not give their highest consideration as the final abiding legal arbiter, to the US Constitution, would be a pass at the voting booth for this wise doctor…and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

    Yet, as the doctor himself pointed out and said in that very interview (that the author somehow completely fails to mention;) it wouldn’t matter whether the person in question were Muslim or Christian…it’s not a religious test–it’s how we come to the decision of how we choose our personal candidate to pull the lever for.

    Dr. Carson expressed an honest opinion based on simple deductive logic…not racism; but practicality. His point is logically based on a Muslim following Sharia Law as an alternative ideology IN DIRECT CONFLICT OF THE CONSTITUTION’S PRINCIPLES, the two are totally at odds and incompatible. This so differs from both the practicing Jew or any saved member of the more than 200 Christian denominations the world over, by the way.

    In essence then, I believe the doctor naturally knows that each candidate is legally qualified to run, he was simply offering his opinion based on whom he wouldn’t personally choose to vote for…and why.

    End of story.

  • KH

    The Constitution calls for no religious litmus test. This is referring to the Government not a private citizen. A person’s personal opinion about who he would support for president is his right protected by the Constitution. Let’s move on, enough nonsense.

  • hamba2han

    It is not a mere coincidence that Ben Carson is black for he has come out of the same production line as Herman Cain and I suspect with the same financial backers as well since they both are saying pretty much the same things when you boil right down to it.

    It is all a ruse by the powers that be to make the Republican party appear less white in the eyes of the electorate.

    The GOP has to do this of course in order to respond to the changing demographics in America and when you see who is in their lineup i.e. several Latinos, an Indian and a black man all running for President, then it really is rather difficult not to arrive at this conclusion.

    Furthermore, I have been reading a few articles relating to what he did in his earlier years and the thing that struck me was that the people who knew him back then are really surprised and taken aback by what he has said about Muslims in America… and to me, this is a huge red flag because these kind of negative sentiments towards a particular community do not form and develop overnight and would therefore come as a shock to those who know him.

    What this certainly suggests is that just like Herman Cain’s well publicized comments on Islam and Muslims, Dr. Ben Carson too is more than likely to be reading from a prepared script that has been provided to him to enable him to play this “anti-Islam” role that has been designed by the powers that be who are responsible for bringing him into this Presidential race.

  • Levin

    One of the problems people have with Dr. Carson, is that that they don’t see the difference between Carson’s personal vote (of which he is entitled to) from how he would act as POTUS. The confusion is understandable because a lot of voters don’t understand that a President’s powers are in fact limited by articles expressed in the Constitution, or they buy into the Left’s notion that the Constitution is meaningless and can be ignored by Presidential fiat.

    The fact of the matter is that Carson always makes this distinction. It was why, after he said that he personally thought marriage should be between a man and a woman, after SCOTUS ruled otherwise, he said that the Supreme Court made it’s decision, and it needed to be respected as the law of the land.

    That’s a completely different attitude than we’ve seen over the past few decades in the Oval Office.

  • Zafarrano Wolffe

    History should be reviewed and analyzed in the frame-of-reference in which it as written. Religious freedom, to the signers of the Constitution, incorporated what they knew as religion at that time, and not the broad spectrum of religions — and their various armies — America faces today.

  • rich

    The second part of his quote they always seem to leave out “A president’s faith should not matter so long as within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”
    He said this because he said he would not advocate for a Muslim in regards to Shariah Law.