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Columnist: Republican candidates stand up to Dr. Carson over the Muslim issue

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

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When Dr. Ben Carson made his comments about Muslims being unfit for the presidency, he boasted of raising a million dollars afterwards, and added “American people, the majority of them, agree and they understand exactly what I’m saying.”

In this day and age, it is assumed by the press that it is dangerous, even political suicide, to challenge Carson’s views on Muslims. This is assumed to be especially true of Republicans. These GOP candidates have been slammed by the media for being weak, even a joke. But when it was time to take what pundits think is an unpopular stand, they took the side of the Constitution.

“I don’t think religion should be a criteria for being president,” Jeb Bush told reporters in Iowa. “The idea that you would think otherwise is not grounded in reality.”

Sen. Ted Cruz agreed. On Iowa public television: “You know, the Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office, and I am a constitutionalist.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once in hot water for appointing a Muslim judge, concurred with those critiquing Dr. Carson’s stand.

On NBC’s Tonight Show, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was asked about Dr. Carson’s position.

“I think that’s wrong,” she told Jimmy Fallon. “You know, it says in our Constitution that religion cannot be a test for office. It is also true that this country was founded on the principle that we judge each individual and that anyone, of any faith, is welcome here.”

She also added that people of faith, regardless of religion, make better leaders.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also condemned Carson’s comments.

“This shows that Dr. Carson is not ready to be commander-in-chief. What would he say to the approximately 3,500 American Muslims who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for our freedom, risking their lives?”

Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal, “Well, there’s no religious test for a person to hold public office in America. I think that would depend on the individual. I don’t think we should just disqualify somebody because of his or her faith, whether that person is a Muslim or Christian.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich was asked the same question.

“The answer is, at the end of the day, you’ve got to go through the rigors, and people will look at everything. For me, the most important thing about being president is you have leadership skills, you know what you’re doing, and you can help fix this country, and raise this country. Those are the qualifications that matter to me.”

Sen. Rand Paul directly addressed the issue.

“Article VI of the Constitution says there won’t be a religious test. I think the answer is that simple.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio appeared on Fox News and gave this answer to Sean Hannity:

“I personally know, first of all, that there are Americans that are Muslims and that are also very patriotic and they love the United States of America and they don’t want to see any Sharia law and they don’t want to see anything like that happen in this country. I don’t believe anyone should be disqualified from the presidency because of their denomination or because of their faith. I believe in that strongly.”

And even Donald Trump chimed in, saying he’d appoint a Muslim-American to his cabinet.

But it’s not just these GOP candidates. Two-thirds of Americans said they would vote for a Muslim for U.S. President, according to a Gallup poll this summer.

Each of these Republican candidates can read Dr. Carson’s interview transcripts. They know that not every Muslim follows Sharia Law, and Islam did not come from Sharia, as Carson mistakenly believes. They know the difference between saying “I wouldn’t vote for a Muslim” and “a Muslim shouldn’t be president,” especially in running for a position that manages the Federal Election Commission. And each was courageous enough to take a stand not considered the popular one. And for that, I am proud of each of them.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.