The Evolution of Ben Carson's Answers to the "Muslim President" Question

A full account of everything Carson has said on the topic recently.

Dr. Ben Carson arrives at the National Press Club before addressing its Newsmakers Luncheon on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla AFP/Getty)

Dr. Ben Carson loves to hate on the press. He did just that at an especially appropriate location on Friday: the National Press Club.

At an appearance to promote his new book, A More Perfect Union, Carson accused the "left-wing press" of "stirring up controversy" and being "instigators." He also said reporters have taken two of his recent comments out of context: one invoking the Holocaust in response to calls for gun control after the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, and another about whether or not a Muslim-American should be allowed to become president.

So, to set the record straight, here are the many iterations of Carson's answer to the latter question, which refuses to die (with our emphasis added).

The original interview (Meet the Press, 9/20/15):

Chuck Todd: Let me wrap this up by finally dealing with what's been going on—Donald Trump, and a deal with a questioner that claimed that the president was Muslim. Let me ask you the question this way. Should a president's faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?

Ben Carson: Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.

CT: So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?

BC: No, I don't, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.

CT: And would you ever consider voting for a Muslim for Congress?

BC: 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.

Follow-up interview (The Hill, 9/20/15)

Carson said that the only exception he’d make would be if the Muslim running for office “publicly rejected all the tenets of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”

“Then I wouldn’t have any problem,” he said.

However, on several occasions Carson mentioned "Taqiyya," a practice in the Shia Islam denomination in which a Muslim can mislead nonbelievers about the nature of their faith to avoid religious persecution.

“Taqiyya is a component of Shia that allows, and even encourages you to lie to achieve your goals,” Carson said.

Email to supporters (9/23/15):

If you've been following the latest "controversy" over my comments about Islam, you know the arrows are out for me.

I will need your help to push back, but I want you to know exactly where I stand. These are my beliefs and I will not back down:

Many parts of Sharia Law are not compatible with the U.S. Constitution. Under Sharia, homosexuals—men and women alike—must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed as well.

There are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenets are fully renounced I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.

Interview with Jake Tapper (State of the Union, 9/27/15):

Tapper: You said last week, quote, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation, I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson: Let me tell you what I would advocate; I would advocate that people go back and look at the transcript of what I actually said.

JT:  I'm reading it word for word. [reads transcript of MTP exchange]. He had asked you about Islam, if you thought Islam was conducive to the Constitution. And you said, Muslims—that you would have a problem with Muslims, with a Muslim being president.

BC: I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam. If they are not willing to reject Sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran—if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course I would. I would ask you, would you be willing to do that? Would you be willing to advocate for somebody who would not do that? Probably not.

JT: I don't assume that because somebody is Muslim that they would put their religion ahead of the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, the U.S. Constitution says itself that no religious test...

BC: Except that I have already said before that anybody from any religion, from any background, if—I told you what the criteria were for that. I told Chuck Todd what the criteria. So he is asking this out of that context.

JT: You don't think that in any way, you said anything that could have been said more clearly about Muslims?

BC: I made it very clear.

JT: You seem to be singling out Muslims as individuals who automatically, as a knee-jerk, would put their religion ahead of the country. And I think that offended a lot of people, including a lot of patriotic Muslims.

BC: I think the statement stands. Is it possible that maybe the media thinks it's a bigger deal than the American people do? Because American people, the majority of them, agree and they understand exactly what I am saying.

JT: I've seen, I've heard from a lot of people who don't think Muslims can be patriotic who agree with you. But I don't know if I were running for president, if I would want the support of people like that.

BC: Of course Muslims can be patriotic. I've worked with Muslims. I've trained Muslims. I've operated on Muslims. There are a lot of Muslims who are very patriotic, good Americans and they gladly admit, at least privately, that they don't accept Sharia or the doctrines and they understand that Islam is a system of living and it includes the way that you relate to the government. And you cannot, unless you specifically deny that portion of Islam, be a Muslim in good standing. Now if that is the case, if you are not willing to reject that, then how in the world can you possibly be the president of the United States?

JT: You are saying there is something specific about being a Muslim. You have to reject Islam to be president.

BC: You have to reject the tenets of Islam. Yes, you have to.

JT: And that's different from an orthodox Jew or a devout Christian?

BC: If there is a devout Christian who is running and they refuse to reject the ideals of our Constitution, or they want to establish a theocracy, I cannot advocate for them.

JT: I guess the point is that you seem to be suggesting that Muslim-Americans automatically want a theocracy, and I just don't know any Muslim-Americans, and I know plenty, who feel that way, even if they are observant Muslims.

BC: OK, in terms of the tenets of Islam, are you familiar with them? The corpus juris from the authoritative group of the people who make the rules that goes back to the 10th century A.D.

JT: I am familiar with extremist interpretations of plenty of religions.

BC: I am not talking about extremist interpretations, I'm talking about what is required.

JT: And you're telling me that what is required for a Muslim...

BC: What is required is that is a system of living that governs every aspect of your life. And you have to make a specific declaration and decision to reject the portions of it.

JT: What portions of it?

BC: The portions that tell you how you treat women. The portions of it that indicate who are the people who are not believers are subject to different rules. That they can be dominated.

JT: I think one of the things is that you are a member of a church that does a lot of misinformation about—the Seventh Day Adventist Church—you're an African American; you know what it is like for people to make false assumptions about you. And you seem to be doing the same thing with Muslims.

BC: In which way am I making a false assumption about them?

JT: You're assuming that Muslim Americans put their religion ahead of the country. I'm assuming that if you accept all the tenets of Islam that you would have a very difficult time abiding under the Constitution of the United States.

(man off-camera) This interview is over.

JT: Thanks, Dr. Carson, I appreciate it.

His latest comments (National Press Club, 10/9/15):

We all basically want the United States to succeed. We have different philosophies about how that's going to be done. But I think if we're willing to sit down and talk about it, then we find that we're not nearly as far apart as we think we are. We do have to keep the instigators out, and the people who try to irritate and agitate. A good example of that is a few weeks ago when I was on Meet the Press and I said, "I think anybody from any religion or any background who is willing to embrace our values and is willing to put our Constitution above their belief system is acceptable to me." I don't know why that is a difficult subject for people to understand, but anyone whose belief system does not conform to our Constitution and who is not willing to put that under our Constitution, why would that person be the leader of this country? That doesn't make any sense.

Later in the program, Carson was asked how a Muslim American could serve in the military or serve as a judge if their values are "incompatible" with the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.

Here's how he answered:

When you look at the Article II, and we're talking about requirements for the president, and they have to be a natural-born citizen, now why is that the case? I'm sure if you had gone to the Founders and said, "But what about this person? He may not be a natural-born citizen, but they've been in America for most of their lives, and they're fine, upstanding citizens. They've served in the military. They came back. They were on the police force. Can't they be the president?" And they would have said, "No." They said, "We don't even want to take the slight chance that we would put someone in that position who had different loyalties." That's the answer to your question.

That answer got Carson vigorous applause from his supporters in the crowd at the National Press Club. Still, the rhetorical gyration from "Muslim" to "Sharia law" to "Taqiyya," to "tenets of Islam" to "natural-born citizen" recalls quite a few other verbal icebergs Carson has had to circumnavigate since he announced his candidacy. As with Donald Trump, however, Carson's own sedate brand of imperturbability makes him immune to cries of, "What about your gaffes?"

It's the perfect symbiotic relationship; reporters get to continue writing up his more vituperative quotes and outraging his detractors, while Carson gets to use that negative publicity as proof that the press hates him. And he has shown every sign that he's hungry for more evidence: Carson will appear on Face the Nation on Sunday.