Ben Carson: Let’s Not Have a Muslim Prez

On Meet the Press this morning, Ben Carson said that Islam is incompatible with our Constitution, and that he would not endorse having a Muslim president. As far as I can see, all news outlets are quoting the same words, and a complete transcript may reveal additional nuance. But this is what is being quoted:

Asked whether his faith or the faith of a president should matter, Carson said, “It depends on what that faith is.”

“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,” he explained, according to a transcript.

Todd then asked Carson, whose rise in the polls has been powered in large part by Christian conservatives, if he believed that “Islam is consistent with the Constitution.”

“No, I don’t, I do not,” he responded, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson added these more positive comments about Islam:

But for Carson, the matter of voting for a Muslim for Congress “is a different story, but it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just as it depends on what anybody else says, you know.”

“And, you know, if there’s somebody who’s 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,” he went on to say.

It is hard to imagine the abuse that Carson is going to take for those remarks. He’d better batten down the hatches. But what he said is true: Islam is incompatible with the Constitution because it does not recognize a separation between church and state.

In this respect Islam is entirely different from Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish prophets were often critics of Israel’s kings, and Jesus built on Judaic tradition when he said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” There is no similar doctrine in Islam. This is one of many instances where the simple-minded belief that all religions are essentially the same–a belief commonly held by the non-religious–is dangerously wrong.

In short, either our Constitution must give way to Islam, or American Muslims must give way to our Constitution. In many cases, no doubt, the latter has happened, and most American Muslims are good citizens. Over time, an American strand of Islam that is more compatible with our laws and political traditions may come to predominate. Maybe it already has.

But world-wide, the trend in Islam is more toward resurgent fundamentalism than toward tolerant moderation. And, as I understand Islam, Carson is correct that a person who holds faithfully to Islamic doctrine has views that are incompatible with our Constitution. Carson will take enormous abuse for saying the unsayable, but he deserves credit for putting an important issue–which bears strongly, to cite just one example, on our immigration policy–on the table. If his understanding of Islam (and mine) is wrong, no doubt correction will follow. But that is a candid discussion that needs to take place.