Days after Donald Trump dignified anti-Muslim bigotry at a New Hampshire town hall meeting, Dr. Ben Carson announced that he did not think a Muslim-American should serve as president.
So it goes in a race for the Republican presidential nomination that is increasingly at odds with the contemporary American circumstance and with the long history of the American experiment.
No one is going to accuse Trump of being an heir to the Enlightenment thinking that inspired the best of the founders. Indeed, it was until Sunday difficult to imagine that any of the other Republican contenders could trump the front runner when it came to giving expression to reactionary thinking.
But Dr. Carson did just that when he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Asked whether a president’s faith should matter to voters, Dr. Carson replied, “I guess 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.”
Asked if he thought Islam—a religion practiced by millions of Americans—is consistent with the Constitution, Carson answered: “No, I don’t—I do not.”
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” continued the contender who in recent weeks has emerged as one of Trump’s most serious challengers. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”
To be clear, Trump and Carson have every right to state whatever wrongheaded view occurs to them. That right is guaranteed by a Constitution that protects freedom of speech in general and outrageous political speech in particular. But the same Constitution establishes that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
To suggest that this absolute standard might not include Muslims is, by contemporary and historic measures, absurd. As Congressman Andre Carson, a Muslim member of the US House who represents Indiana, explained Monday: “Saying the United States should not elect a Muslim president is as absurd as saying we should not elect a neurosurgeon as president. Freedom of religion is a founding principle of our nation. And for any candidate to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for public office, to me is simply asinine.”