By Bryant Macale –
A prominent U.S. survey has found that six out of 10 Americans believe they could vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who happens to be Muslim. In the June 2015 Gallup Poll, 60 percent of respondents said they would be willing to support a qualified Muslim candidate nominated by their party.
The figure is even higher among Americans who have or claim to have no religion: 82 percent of respondents who are non-religious would vote for a qualified Muslim candidate in the presidential election.
The Gallup Poll asked respondents whether they could support a well-qualified presidential candidate who was Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, evangelical Christian or atheist. The survey results showed support from respondents that ranged from 93 percent for a Catholic candidate to 58 percent for an atheist.
The poll results are based on telephone interviews done June 2-7, 2015. The poll had a random sample size of 1,527 adults who live in all the states and the District of Columbia.
The poll indicates a remarkable shift in attitudes over the past six decades in the willingness of the United States to support a black, female, Catholic or Jewish candidate for president.
The survey results also seem to be in contrast with a position of a leading Republican presidential contender seeking his party’s nomination as its standard bearer in the 2016 elections.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 20, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Explaining his position, Carson said Islam is not “consistent with the Constitution.”
Carson did say he would accept members of Congress who are Muslim.
“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,” Carson said.
The U.S. Constitution bans a religious test for people holding public office.
Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution states: “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
The Constitution’s First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Carson’s position on the issue was condemned among various sectors. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties advocacy group based in Washington with several regional offices nationwide, said Carson was unfit to be running for president and urged him to quit the Republican Party’s nominating contest.
Carson quickly blamed political correctness for the negative reactions over his comment.
Carson is an author and a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon. A devout Christian, Carson added he would also oppose a Christian president who wanted to set up a theocracy in the United States. Theocracy is a government form in which a deity is officially recognized as the supreme civil ruler. He also said his position was that anyone who wants the presidency needs to embrace the country’s American and constitutional principles.
Clarence Page, a syndicated newspaper columnist and member of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, wrote that it “is Carson’s religious litmus test that is inconsistent with the Constitution.”
Page continued: “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 a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, despite vocal opposition from some throwbacks, seemed to put that religious test question to rest.”
Carson’s comments on the issue drew other reactions from fellow presidential Republican candidates.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio reacted by saying that faith should not be a reason to disqualify anyone from the presidency. However, he added that a person who believes in or subscribes to Sharia law should not be put into public office in the United States in any case.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized Carson for his comments. Posting on Twitter, Graham wrote: “Carson is not ready to be Commander-in-Chief. America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion. Carson needs to apologize to American Muslims. He is a good doctor, but clearly not prepared to lead a great nation.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also said an individual’s faith is not relevant to seeking the presidency or any public office. “The United States Constitution is clear,” Allie Bradenburger, a Bush campaign spokesperson, said in an email to the Guardian. “It prohibits religious tests for public office.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did not directly attack Carson. He just said: “I think it would depend on the individual. I don’t think we ought to just disqualify somebody because of his or her faith.”
In more measured words, ardent conservative Ted Cruz disagreed with Carson. In an interview with an Iowa news agency, the Texas senator said: “You know, the Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office and I am a constitutionalist.”
Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote on her Twitter: “Can a Muslim be President of the United States of America? In a word: Yes. Now let’s move on.”
Carson is not alone in his views that promote Islamophobia in the country. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has showed signs of rabble-rousing. He has said that U.S. President Barack Obama was foreign born, even trying to call Obama a Muslim. In an interview, Trump said, “Muslims are phenomenal people, but like everything else you have people where there are problems.”
Reacting to the Gallup Poll, former Democratic state legislator Rashida Tlaib of Michigan found the results reassuring because they show that a huge number of Americans do respect those coming from various religious backgrounds. She added that there are not enough Muslim candidates running for office. Tlaib is the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan Legislature.
Tlaib said it is not impossible to have a Muslim American president, considering that Obama is biracial. Some high-profile officials are Muslim, including Congressmen Andre D. Carson, D-Ind., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., she said.
“If the 60 percent is to be used as a proxy of acceptance of Muslims, I am encouraged by an upward trajectory,” said Saud Anwar, mayor of South Windsor, Conn. He is the state’s first Muslim mayor.
A recent workshop by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in partnership with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University showed that as more American Muslims join public service, they are “uniquely positioned to elevate the perception and understanding of Islam and Muslims.”