GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that the United States should never elect a Muslim president. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he told host Chuck Todd. When asked if he believed Islam “is consistent with the Constitution,” Carson answered, “No, I don’t, I do not.”
That would probably be news to the Founding Fathers. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom to protect adherents of all faiths throughout the commonwealth and and to disestablish a state church. The statute subsequently influenced the First Amendment’s drafting and is considered a cornerstone of American religious pluralism. Jefferson later cited it among his greatest accomplishments.
Many years later, in 1821, Jefferson wrote that the Virginia legislature had explicitly rejected the idea that the statute applied only to Christians.
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.
“Muslim” has replaced “Mohametan” as the preferred nomenclature, but the principle endures. Forbidding a Muslim president by law would be stupendously unconstitutional. Even if the First Amendment didn’t protect freedom of religion, Article VI of the Constitution forbids all religious tests for any public office.