And there is a strong case to be made against voting for a Muslim for president. But before we get to that, let's look at the criticism and anger sent Carson's way since his statement.
Everyone from Mitt Romney to the imam on the corner has weighed in about the Constitution and its ban on a religious test for public office. It's as if they think Americans are dumb enough to be conned into believing that the two things are in anyway related.
Because they're not.
A religious test, as the phrase is used in the Constitution, means that the government can't say only Methodists can hold office – or any other such denominationally based requirement. The United States declared its independence from a Great Britain that required membership in the Church of England of all those who wanted to hold high office or have privilege with the government.
That's a religious test.
America has no religious test. The only legal requirements to be president is to be a natural-born American and to have attained the age of 35. Those are the only requirements the government has.
The people, however, as they cast their ballots, can have whatever requirements they choose. Including religion. That's why Muslims in America vote, when they can, overwhelmingly for Muslims. And why Jews in America vote, when they can, overwhelmingly for Jews. Ditto for Mormons, Catholics and Southern Baptists. Also – leaving religion and going to ethnicity – black people, Latinos, Italians and the Irish.
Americans vote for people like themselves. Affinity is an important part of representation, and in a republic, where elected officials are to represent the people, most voters feel best represented by people who are like themselves. There's nothing wrong with that. It's natural. It's logical.
And America, a nation whose majority religion is Christianity, would in most situations be best represented and led by a person who is Christian.
Further, when voters decide which candidate to support, they often consider the entire person, and nothing is more formative of a person's entirety than that person's faith – if the person truly is a person of faith. If you are truly religious, your religion shapes and directs every part of your life and outlook.
Consequently, religion is absolutely something to consider in voting. That's not bigotry, that's common sense.
In fairness, most candidates in modern America don't really have anything more than a nominal religion, and are truly secularists, so their particular denominational affiliation doesn't mean much. That's why Catholic politicians have been some of the biggest defenders of abortion. Clearly, a presidential candidate whose background is Muslim could be as bad at living his religion as many Christians are, and so the religion wouldn't be as significant a factor.
But if a candidate of any religion honestly takes his faith seriously, it becomes a driving part of his life, and should be considered seriously by voters. That is true of any religion, including mine, and including Islam. And it can be considered as a positive or as a negative, depending on the choice of the voter involved.
Now, as to the particular suitability of a faithful Muslim being president of the United States, there are areas of concern. Starting with the Judeo-Christian ethic.
American life and law are based upon a cultural approach and faith tradition alien to Islam. Could a faithful Muslim faithfully uphold a constitutional system at variance with his religion's traditions?
Law in America, for example, is based on the wish of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. Law in Islam, by contrast, is based on revelation from deity through a prophet. In American, the people are sovereign; in Islam, religion is sovereign.
It is fair to ask if a Muslim candidate would follow the system of our nation or the system of his faith.
Further, it would be fair to ask a Muslim candidate if he can embrace the equal protection under law innate in the American system but alien to his personal faith. The preamble and the 14th Amendment guarantee equal protection to all Americans – including women and gay people. In no nation led by a Muslim are women and gay people allowed equal legal rights. Islam teaches that women and gay people, and people who don't follow Islam, are second-class citizens. Would a faithful Muslim follow his religion or the American Constitution?
Those are all fair and reasonable questions to ask. And perhaps an individual Muslim candidate could answer them satisfactorily. But it is not bigotry to wonder. And it is not bigotry to believe that a Muslim is ill suited to be the American president.
Ben Carson was right, and honest.
More candidates should be that way.