Dr. Ben Carson has ignited a big media controversy by proclaiming he would not support a Muslim as President. Dr. Carson has since amplified his comments to explain that he would oppose an Islamist, someone who wanted to impose Sharia law on the United States.
As I, and others have noted, for Sharia law to be imposed anywhere in America, at the local, state, or federal level, one would have to rescind Article VI of the Constitution, which bans any religious test for office. You would also have to rescind at least the First Amendment (which guarantees no government establishment of religion, which Sharia law would require), as well as the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, which Sharia law would not grant to women and non-Muslims.
However, followers of Islam are not monolithic. It must always be remembered that so far, at least 90% of the victims of Islamist terrorism have been other Muslims who refuse to acquiesce to the sectarian cultic interpretation of Islamist jihad as the only legitimate understanding of Islam.
However, Dr. Carson has ignited an important discussion. How should we factor in a candidate's religious beliefs in evaluating whether or not he or she deserves our support?
We should ask each candidate, and they should answer candidly and transparently, how will your faith inform your views and your governing? Then, as informed voters, we can make the decision of what kind of president, or governor, or senator, or congressional representative for that matter, we want representing us.
For example, when Senator Lieberman had been selected to be Vice President Al Gore's running mate in 2000, he came to Nashville and gave a speech in which he mentioned God approximately a dozen times in a little over two minutes (the New York Times was actually counting, disapprovingly). Sen. Lieberman explained that he was an observant Jew and that his Jewish faith was an integral part of his life, public and private. In essence he said, "This is who I am and if you don't want that kind of a vice president, then don't vote for me."
What we should have is truth telling and transparency from our candidates, not a religious test for office. For example, the candidates should tell voters whether they are people of faith and whether their faith is important to them and how it could impact performance of their office.
President John F. Kennedy (then a Senator), came to Houston, Texas on September 12, 1960 to deliver a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Why? Because, as incredible as it seems now with six Catholic Supreme Court Justices and the extremely warm welcome of Pope Francis in the United States, no Catholic had ever been elected president. In those pre-Vatican II days, many Americans were deeply opposed to a Catholic president. They were very fearful that the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy would dictate policy to a Catholic president.
Senator Kennedy came to Houston and delivered one of the most remarkable speeches of his political career. He "threaded the needle" on this issue of presidential faith about as well as it can be threaded. He began by saying,
"That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe, a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it — its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
He went on to say,
"I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to fulfill; and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation. He then got down to brass tacks, proclaiming, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic."
Then, with evident emotion, the future president made it clear that no matter what issues crossed his desk as president, he would make his decision "in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest."
JFK then added that his faith informed his conscience and that he did not "intend to disavow ... my church in order to win this election." He then promised that if, at some point in the future, his performance of his office "would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise."
He concluded by pledging eloquently that if "I should win this election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency," which reads,
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
As noted earlier, an Islamist devoted to the imposition of Sharia law could not in good conscience take that oath. So, if an Islamist were to be elected president, the oath of office would have to be altered in light of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
So, could we have a Muslim president? It depends on what kind of Muslim he or she is (someone who believes in separation of mosque and state), and that person would not be the Muslim candidate for president, but either the Democratic or Republican candidate who happens to be a Muslim.
Hypothetically, a Muslim could run for president on a platform of encouraging the American people to vote to rescind the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In other words, they would be employing the democratic process to fundamentally alter our form of government. Such a campaign would be legal, but such a candidate would have virtually zero chance to the 10th power of winning.
If a Muslim candidate or his supporters, however, attempted to advocate or act on plans to subvert our democratic process and to violently overthrow our governmental system, then they would be guilty of treason and should be prosecuted.