Trump, Carson embroiled in Muslim controversies

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Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson. (Photos: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Ben Carson says the United States should not elect a Muslim president and the leading Muslim civil liberties group in America called Monday for the Republican to drop out of the presidential race.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” the retired neurosurgeon said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Carson’s comment comes on the heels of GOP front-runner Donald Trump taking a question from a campaign rally attendee who said, “We have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims.”

Trump has since said he has many Muslim friends, but Sunday on “State of the Union,” he added that the problem is “radical Muslims.”

“I’ve said it always, I’ve never had a problem with Muslims. You do have an individual problem where you do have some radicals that are having problems,” Trump said Monday on NBC’s “Today Show.” “I assume that he was talking about radical Islam.”

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on Islamic Foreign Relations, said the group is calling on Carson to “withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution.”

Awad pointed out the Constitution clearly states that there shall be “no religious test” for candidates to seek public office.

Awad said he was “shocked” to hear Carson’s comments, which he described as anti-Muslim. He urged the public and other presidential candidates to “repudiate” Carson’s views.

Immediately following Awad’s comments, Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, said many Americans share Carson’s views about Islam.

“He has to come to the conclusion for what is best for America. In his heart of hearts he could never advocate for a Muslim to become President of the United States,” Williams said.

The questioner at Trump’s New Hampshire event last week said there was a problem with “Muslims” and went on to say that he believed there were terrorist training camps in the United States.

Trump’s campaign manager at first said Trump did not hear the first part of the question when the man said he believed Muslims are a problem and that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Trump later insisted he has no “moral obligation” to defend Obama from those accusations.

Trump did not seek to distance himself from the questioner at the New Hampshire event who sparked the controversy, noting Monday morning that the man was wearing a Trump T-shirt and was simply a “hardworking guy from the area” who was “speaking his opinion.”

Trump also noted he saw “a lot of people in the audience … nodding” their heads in agreement with what the questioner was saying.

Carson, meanwhile, was asked Sunday whether a president’s faith should matter to voters.

“I guess it depends on what that faith is,” he said. “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.”

Asked whether Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson said: “No, I don’t — I do not.”

He said he is open, though, to voting for a Muslim for Congress.

“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.”

Carson said he has no reason to believe President Barack Obama isn’t a Christian. The man at Trump’s rally had falsely claimed that Obama is a Muslim.

Trump did not say whether he agreed with Carson but said the retired neurosurgeon was simply “speaking his opinion” and that Carson clearly “feels very strongly” about that view.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was asked about Hillary Clinton’s role in not squashing talk of President Barack Obama being a Muslim in their 2008 battle. But Klobuchar deflected the question and put it back on Carson.

“I think it’s been pretty clear that Secretary Clinton has an excellent relationship with President Obama,” Klobuchar said. “I think the bigger issue here is you have Ben Carson basically saying a Muslim shouldn’t be president, and I’d like him to say that to my staff member, who is Muslim, who set it up so I can be here today.”

Carson’s comments angered one of the two Muslims in Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

“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.”