GOP candidates disavow Trump’s call for Muslim database
Washington — Republican presidential candidates swiftly condemned Donald Trump’s call for requiring Muslims in the United States to register in a national database, drawing a sharp distinction Friday with the GOP front-runner.
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has challenged Trump’s standing atop the GOP field, also raised eyebrows Thursday when the Detroit native compared blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. to handling a rabid dog.
On Friday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Trump’s proposal “abhorrent.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Trump was trying to “divide people.” And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has largely avoided criticizing Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, said that while he was a fan of the billionaire businessman, “I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens.”
“The First Amendment protects religious liberty, and I’ve spent the past several decades defending the religious liberty of every American,” Cruz told reporters in Sioux City, Iowa.
The rebuke followed Trump’s call Thursday for a mandatory database to track Muslims in the U.S. In a video posted on MSNBC.com, Trump was asked whether Muslims would be required to register. He replied, “They have to be.”
On Friday, Trump said on Twitter that he didn’t suggest creating such a database but instead was answering a question from a reporter about the idea. However, he did not disavow the prospect of a database on social media or at an event Friday morning.
Carson also ratcheted up his rhetoric, comparing Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.
“If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson told reporters at a campaign stop in Alabama. “It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned both Trump and Carson’s comments as “Islamophobic and unconstitutional.”
“Donald Trump and Ben Carson are contributing to an already toxic environment that may be difficult to correct once their political ambitions have been satisfied,” CAIR’s Robert McCaw said in a statement.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, blasted Trump for his comments.
“Trump’s rhetoric represents the worst of the current political climate in our nation,” he said. “That he continues to have support despite his bigotry represents another sad chapter in American history.”
Civil liberties experts said a database for Muslims would be unconstitutional on several counts, while the libertarian Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro said the idea also violates basic privacy and liberty rights.
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom.
“What the First Amendment does and what it should do is drive the government to use neutral criteria,” Hamilton said. “You can use neutral criteria to identify terrorists. What it can’t do is engage in one-religion bashing. That won’t fly in any court.”
In New Hampshire on Friday, Carson said the U.S. should have a database on “every foreigner who comes into this country,” but he rejected the idea of tracking U.S. citizens based on their religion.
“One of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same,” he said.
The controversy followed the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, elevating fears of attacks in the U.S. and prompting calls for new restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton took to Twitter Friday and challenged all Republican candidates to disavow Trump’s comments. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called Trump’s words “outrageous and bigoted.”
“This is shocking rhetoric,” Clinton wrote. “It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country.”
Several did just that.
“You’re talking about internment, you’re talking about closing mosques, you’re talking about registering people, and that’s just wrong,” Bush said Friday on CNBC.
A spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the candidate “does not support databases based on one’s religion.”
Kasich, the Ohio governor, said requiring people to register with the federal government because of their religion “strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.” Kasich had faced criticism following the Paris shooting for saying he would set up an agency with a mandate to promote what he called “Judeo-Christian values” overseas to counter Islamist propaganda.