Under fire for saying he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Tuesday accused the media of taking those remarks out of context in an attempt to pursue a “juicy” story. Without apologizing for anything, the retired neurosurgeon told reporters at a press conference in Sharonville, Ohio, that he had “no problem” with any person of faith, so long as they place the U.S. Constitution above their religious beliefs.
“If people listened to that interview, they’ll notice that I said that anybody – regardless of their religion or affiliation – if they embrace American values and they place the Constitution at the top level, then I’m supportive of them,” said Carson. “That part, nobody heard.”
The interview in question took place on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, during which Carson unleashed a flood of criticism for saying he did not believe that Islam was consistent with the Constitution.
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson told host Chuck Todd. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”
While responding to a question about whether he could support a Muslim running for Congress, Carson later said: “If there’s somebody 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.”
The damage, however, had already been done. Carson’s remarks attracted widespread condemnation from the likes of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, as well as Republican rivals Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR,) which is the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization, called on Carson to withdraw from the 2016 presidential race and said he was “unfit to lead.”
Prior to Carson’s “Meet the Press” interview, GOP front-runner Donald Trump also found himself in hot water over his views on Islam. At a town hall event last week, the real estate mogul failed to correct a questioner who wrongly labeled President Obama a Muslim and said that Muslims were “a problem in this country.” Carson said Tuesday that he would have pushed back on the questioner were he in the same situation.
So far, Carson’s attempts at damage control have done little to quiet his detractors. In an interview on Fox News Monday evening, Carson said he could not advocate for any religious person – whether Muslim, Christian, or of any other faith – who wanted to turn the country into a theocracy. Muslim governments, Carson said, “currently do not tend to operate the same way that our system does.” But if a Muslim were “willing to reject those tenets,” he added, “I would then be quite willing to support them.”
In a Monday Facebook post, meanwhile, Carson again said he could advocate for a Muslim presidential candidate so long as that person “fully renounced” the extreme aspects of Islamic Law, such as killing gay people or making women subservient. Carson repeated those inconsistencies between Islam and American values at the news conference Tuesday.
“[Chuck Todd] was saying, well what about somebody who is of a faith that does not traditionally separate church and state, that traditionally has a theocracy, that traditionally treats women in ways different than we do, treats gays in different ways than we do, subjugates other religions,” Carson said. “Obviously, that would not be something that would be consistent with American values and our Constitution.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Carson was at a press conference in Cedarville, Ohio Tuesday. He was in Sharonville, Ohio.