Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson talks to reporters after speaking during an event at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2015.
Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Carson backs religious test for presidency, despite Constitution

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is unambiguously clear: “[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
 
As of yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson either doesn’t know what the Constitution says or he simply doesn’t care.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States. Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” 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.”
 
He also said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.
It was a bizarre exchange to watch. “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd asked Carson, currently a top-tier GOP contender, if a president’s faith matters. “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” he replied. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”
 
Following up, Todd asked, “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Carson replied, “No, I don’t, I do not…. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”
 
As a rule, even the most far-right politicians like to pretend Americans should be evaluated on their merits, but Carson is unconcerned with such niceties. As far as the retired neurosurgeon is concerned, there might as well be a sign on the White House door that reads, “No Muslims Need Apply.”
 
Why? Because Ben Carson says so.
 
The ugliness of Carson’s prejudice is itself striking, but let’s not overlook the fact that his rhetoric also amounts to gibberish. As Carson sees it, Constitution be damned, there should be a religious test for the presidency – and that test would examine a religious tradition to see whether it’s “consistent with the Constitution.”
 
I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. The Constitution is a secular document, which makes no references to God or any faith tradition. There is literally nothing to suggest one religion is any more or less “consistent with the Constitution” than any other.
 
Besides, who exactly would be responsible for judging which religions are up to constitutional muster and which aren’t? Carson seems to think he’s up for the job, which only adds insult to injury.
 
There’s a degree of irony to Carson’s nonsense: by arguing that Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution, which should necessarily disqualify any Muslim presidential candidates, Carson is giving voice to a principle that’s obviously inconsistent with the Constitution.
 
Maybe the GOP presidential hopeful was rattled during the live interview and walked this back after the appearance ended? No such luck – his campaign spokesperson said Carson stood by the comments, and the candidate himself added last night, “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”
 
Fortunately, adherents to other faith traditions don’t believe their religions are part of their public lives, right? Please.
 
As for the only candidate who’s polling better than Carson among Republican voters, the GOP frontrunner had his own difficulties with these issues last week, and yesterday, Donald Trump pandered to bigots once more.
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump said that he feels “strongly that Muslims are excellent. I know so many Muslims that are such fabulous people.
 
But he continued, “We can be politically correct and say there is no problem whatsoever, but the fact is, there is a problem with some and it’s a very severe problem and it’s a problem that’s taking place all over the world.”
 
Asked by host Chuck Todd whether he’d support a Muslim president, Trump dodged. “Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now. Some people have said it already happened,” he said.
He didn’t elaborate, though I’d hazard a guess that Trump, who rose to political prominence by pushing a racist conspiracy theory, saw President Obama as the intended target of the remark.
 
Vox’s Max Fisher made the case last week that “anti-Muslim bigotry in America is out of control.” When the top two candidates for a major-party presidential nomination make no effort – on national television – to hide their anti-Muslim animus, Fisher’s argument is looking more and more persuasive all the time.
 
 

Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Islam and Religion

Carson backs religious test for presidency, despite Constitution