by Kevin Nugent/Love and Rage
In a recent interview with Chuck Todd of MSNBC, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson was asked if he felt a Muslim should serve as president of the United States. He answered that Islam is inconsistent with American ideals, and that he therefore could not support a Muslim candidate for president. He said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
The attitude that Muslims should not serve in public office has been commonplace in American politics for years, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A 2015 Gallup poll found that a full 40% of Americans would not support a qualified Muslim candidate for president. The only group found to be less popular than Muslims were atheists, coming in at 42% disapproval. Candidate Barack Obama felt this fact first-hand while campaigning for the presidency in 2008, and there remains to this day a small yet committed group of conservatives that believe that President Obama is a “secret Muslim.” Whether he is or not is completely irrelevant, and I do not wish to address that here.
There are many, many reasons why the opposition to Islamic presidential candidates, based on religious affiliation alone, is misguided, unjust and blatantly discriminatory. However, what most people seem to forget is that this belief is also in direct opposition to the laws outlined in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Article VI, Section III of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This means that any attempt at discriminating against potential nominees based on his or her religious affiliation is not only in poor taste, but also unconstitutional. It is ironic that Ben Carson used his support for “freedom” and “American values” as the rationale for opposing a potential Muslim candidacy, while at the same time undermining those very values by ignoring the Constitution’s ban on religious tests for public office and religious discrimination. The irony would be delicious if only it weren’t so heartbreaking.
Former Secretary of State and four-star General Colin Powell has been one of the few voices of reason within the Republican Party on this issue, consistently rebutting the notion that a Muslim could not or should not serve as President of the United States. He noted in a 2008 Meet the Press’interview that Muslims serve in the armed forces, putting their lives on the line, and sometimes losing them, on behalf of the American people. He cited one soldier’s sacrifice in particular:
“I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards – Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death. He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross. It didn’t have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life.”
Dr. Carson, it is your responsibility as a candidate for President of the United States to recognize that Muslims can be just as patriotic and just as able to serve their country as Christians are. In fact, they may even be more so, as it is unlikely a Muslim candidate would upend constitutional principles and deny your right to run for the presidency as you would do unto them.
Shame on you, Ben Carson.
Kevin Nugent is an Oriskany, NY native who is currently teaching English with his wife in South Korea. Kevin previously sat on the Board of Directors for Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc. and taught as an adjunct lecturer of Government and Politics at Utica College.