(Photo: Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)
Monday night's Republican presidential debate touched on the issue of Muslims in America with Herman Cain having to explain an earlier statement he made that he would not appoint one in his administration.
Cain, who continues to rise in polls, clarified that he said he would not be comfortable having a Muslim in his administration – not that he wouldn’t appoint one.
"You have peaceful Muslims and you have militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us. And so when I said I wouldn't be comfortable I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us," the former Godfather's Pizza CEO said during the first major GOP primary debate in New Hampshire.
He added, "I do not believe in Sharia (Islamic) law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period."
The issue was raised by Josh McElveen of WMUR News who cited Cain's earlier interview with Think Progress.
Cain, a self-professed Christian, said in March that he would not be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet or as a federal judge because "there is this creeping attempt ... to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government."
"This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change."
Before that, Cain admitted that he has little knowledge of Islam. He was asked by Christianity Today magazine about the role of Muslims in American society. While affirming their right to freely practice their religion, Cain said based upon what he does know about the Muslim religion, he believes "they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them."
"Now, I know that there are some peaceful Muslims who don't go around preaching or practicing that. Well, unfortunately, we can't sit back and tolerate the radical ones simply because we know that there are some of them who don't believe in that aspect of the Muslim religion," he told the magazine.
During the New Hampshire debate on Monday, Cain defended himself when he was accused of singling out Muslims.
He said he would ask "certain questions" to Muslims when interviewing them for a job but maintained, "It's not a litmus test."
"It is simply trying to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution first in order for them to work effectively in the administration."
Other Republican presidential contenders weighed in on the matter.
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich echoed the need for caution.
As an example, he pointed to the Pakistani's plot last year to bomb New York's Times Square.
"The Pakistani who emigrated to the U.S. became a citizen, built a car bomb which luckily failed to go off in Times Square was asked by the federal judge, how could he have done that when he signed – when he swore an oath to the United States. And he looked at the judge and said, 'You’re my enemy. I lied,'" Gingrich recounted for the audience.
"Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period," Gingrich asserted.
Though it may sound controversial, he said similar measures of precaution were taken when dealing with the Nazis and with communists.
"And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no," he contended.
In a more toned down response, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney first made it clear that Sharia law will never be applied in U.S. courts.
With regard to his own appointments, he stated, "Obviously, anybody who would come into my administration would be someone who I knew, who I was comfortable with, and who I believed would honor as their highest oath – their oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States."
Other candidates who joined the debate on Monday with moderator John King of CNN were: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.