A Muslim President?: How to Navigate Ben Carson’s New Presidential Requirement By: Catie Malone

A Muslim President?: How to Navigate Ben Carson’s New Presidential Requirement

By: Catie Malone

Comments from GOP Presidential candidates have made headlines, shaped the debates, and continue to guide the current Presidential campaign season. Most recently, GOP candidate Dr. Ben Carson stated that he would not support a Muslim person’s bid for president, citing the inconsistency between the faith and the United States Constitution.[1] He reinforced his stance saying that if a candidate’s faith was in tension with American values and the Constitution, his faith was a matter of consequence.[2] While his campaign stresses that his opinions do not propose any policy nor authorize any rule of law prohibiting Islamic faithful from running for office, it is significant that a person running for President of this country would view an otherwise qualified person’s religious beliefs as a disqualifying factor.

But, this is not the first time a candidate’s religious beliefs are at issue as Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sander reminds us of the stigma associated with electing the first Catholic or black President.[3] Over fifty years ago, voters, candidates, and politicians doubted the ability of a Catholic presidential candidate to be uninfluenced by the church, the Vatican, and the Pope. Then, anti-Catholic sentiments were not only more widespread, but more “vocal and socially acceptable,”[4] and the Catholic Church was seen as a “foreign body” inside this country and its members were subject to the “sway of an organization that is alien in spirit and control.”[5]

More recently, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney addressed concerns that his Mormonism raised questions about his independence from the guidance and leadership of the church. In 2006, Romney, like Kennedy before him, claimed to be an “American running for President,” assuring voters that whatever authority his church leaders had was limited to the affairs of the church, and did not extend to any political, or he hoped, Presidential decisions.[6] Although article VI of the Constitution prohibits the use of any religious test “as a qualification for any office or public trust,”[7] those candidates who fall outside of mainline Protestant denominations must prove themselves loyal to the Constitution above their faith.

Kennedy and Romney’s attempts at reassuring voters that a candidate whose religion created a question of loyalty to American values would place the Constitution and the needs of the nation first seem to be sufficient to comfort the doubtful. However, Carson, and those who agree with him, would require a Muslim candidate reject and renounce a part of their faith and their religious text to be a suitable candidate. To be fit to serve, Carson says, Muslims would need to “reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran.”[8] For him, sharia’s lack of protections for the rights of women, of LGBT people, Islam’s “subjugat[ion] of other religion, and its advocacy for “a host of things that are not compatible with our constitution” make it an unfit and unconstitutional foundation for American law.[9]

However, the American Bar Association believes the “safeguards… already enshrines in federal and state law” sufficient to prevent reliance and application of “Sharia or other rules… that are contrary to our public policy… including, for instance, rules that are incompatible with our notions of gender equality.”[10] Public policy controls choice-of-law principles and will prevent courts from interpreting case law, facts, and reasoning in line with any foreign law that would violate this policy.[11] This protection against enforcing and implementing foreign laws, the Bar finds, gives the Judicial branch enough power to check an action by the Executive Branch, should they act on unreliable authority.

Further, the First Amendment’s protection of a person’s right to practice his religion according to his own dictates. Carson’s statements would read this long-standing American principle out of its importance in ensuring that each individual can maintain and practice their faith. Though his campaign website reflects on the importance of our Founding Fathers existence as “courageous men of principle and faith,”[12] it ignores the adamant protection of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Carson forgets that Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion… [which shall in] no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”[13] He also ignored James Madison’s argument supporting the “fundamental and undeniable truth” that religious beliefs, as well as discharging that belief, can only occur by the choice of the individual and not by coercion, force, or violence.[14]

What makes Carson’s position even more interesting, is where a non-repudiating Muslim is categorically unfit for President, Carson would be open to considering the policies and positions of a Muslim candidate for Congress.[15] Muslim members of Congress would be required to place Islamic principles above other faiths like a Presidential candidate would. The sharia law that applies to the potential Presidential candidate not dictate a Congressperson’s behavior the same. So, why would Carson require a candidate for President to repudiate his faith and sections of the religious text while not questioning or doubting the loyalty to the Constitution of a congressional candidate? Perhaps he sees one or a few Muslims in Congress as less dangerous because of the large numbers of Senators and Representatives of other, more mainline faiths.

This country prides itself on religious freedom while respecting and accommodating the demands of a pluralistic society.  Individuals certainly have the right to make their decisions on who to cast, or not cast, their ballot and the reasons they make that decision are their own. However, for a Presidential candidate to push a position that would blanket all Muslims who would refuse to reject tenants of their faith and holy text as a danger to American rights, freedoms, and values is to reject a major tenant of this nation’s founding.

[1] Ed Demaria, Ben Carson Does Not Believe a Muslim Should be President, Meet The Press, (September 20, 2015), http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/ben-carson-does-not-believe-muslim-should-be-president-n430431.

[2] Hallie Jackson and Phil Helsel, Ben Carson’s Campaign Responds to Outrage Over Comments on Islam, NBC News (September 21, 2015), http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/spokesman-ben-carson-thinks-people-would-decide-muslim-president-n430656.

[3] Id.

[4] Paul Horwitz, Religion and American Politics: Three Views of the Cathedral, 39 U. Mem. L. Rev. 973, 989 (2009).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 1000.

[7] U.S. Const. art. VI.

[8] Eric Bradner, Ben Carson Again Explains Concerns with a Muslim President, CNN Politics (September 27, 2015),

[9] Martin Pengelly, Ben Carson says Muslim presidential candidate would have to ‘subjugate’ beliefs, The Guardian (September 27, 1015), http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/27/ben-carson-muslim-president-subjugate-beliefs.

[10] American Bar Association, ______ 4 (2011).

[11] Id. at 10.

[12] Ben Carson, Keep Faith in Our Society, Ben on the Issues, (last visited September 27, 2015), https://www.bencarson.com/issues/faith.

[13] Thomas Jefferson,  A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786).

[14] James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785).

[15] Martin Pengelly, Ben Carson says no Muslim should ever become US president, The Guardian (September 20, 2015), http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/20/ben-carson-no-muslim-us-president-trump-obama.

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