Page: Muslim? What’s so wrong with that?

Clarence Page

After reaching the top tier of Republican presidential candidates in polls, Dr. Ben Carson has given us another historic milestone: He has boldly called for religious discrimination against any Muslims who run for president.

Responding to host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to the question of whether he could support a Muslim candidate for president, the famous brain surgeon said, no, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Why not? Islam, said Carson, is “inconsistent” with the Constitution and “the values and principles of America.”

Well, as a constitutional expert, Dr. Carson makes a good brain surgeon. It says quite clearly in Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

A lot of us Americans thought we had said goodbye to the sort of religious bigotry that marked the nation’s past. It erupted ferociously against the presidential run by New York Gov. Al Smith, a Catholic, in 1928. The election in 1960 of another Catholic, John F. Kennedy, in 1960 despite vocal opposition from some throwbacks, seemed to put that religious test question to rest.

Even Carson began to backpedal, as condemnations of his remarks came in from various groups, including some of Carson’s fellow Republican presidential hopefuls.

In an interview later on Sunday with The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Carson said he was caught off-guard by Todd’s question. It wasn’t all Islam that he opposed, just sharia law. If the Muslim running for office “publicly rejected all the tenets of sharia and lived a life consistent with that,” he said, he “wouldn’t have any problem.”

Carson’s wobbly attempts to clarify his sentiments sound like a man who never really had to think about these touchy issues before he decided to run for president. Better late than never.

Rest assured, there is no danger of the Islamic-based legal system of sharia taking over other American laws. Yet anti-Muslim jitters are so fierce in some parts of our country that states with very few or no Muslims have tried to pass laws that expressly forbid their courts from even considering Islamic law in judicial decisions.

If the potential invasion of sharia law is the concern of Carson and others who want to call themselves fair-minded, it should be treated like any other personal belief of a candidate. The candidate should be given an opportunity to explain how his or her beliefs might influence his or her conduct in office. Then the voters can decide. That’s the American way.

Is the Quran un-American? We know that Thomas Jefferson, an avid reader, found time to see for himself. He had a two-volume English translation of the holy book that now belongs to the Library of Congress.

In 2007, Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and one of two Muslims in Congress, took his symbolic oath of office on Jefferson’s Quran. Religious differences, Ellison said, “are nothing to be afraid of.” No, not unless you think of every Muslim as a potential terrorist.

Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.