Local groups call for civic and religious literacy in presidential campaign

D. Andrew Kille, San Jose Interfaith Examiner

Following recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” and Donald Trump’s failure to challenge a questioner’s statement that “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” several local interreligious organizations have issued a “call for civic and religious literacy and interreligious engagement.

“Such ignorance from a person who is a serious contender for the Presidency of the United States reveals the urgent need for public education and interreligious engagement to dispel such lack of understanding about world religions and cultures and about Islam and Muslims in particular” said the interfaith leaders in their statement.

The statement was signed by ING, Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, Hindu American Foundation, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County Governing Board, and the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley. It noted that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits a religious test for elected office, and that the First Amendment guarantees governmental neutrality with regard to religion and protection of religious belief and practice.

At the Trump event, after his comment about the so-called “Muslim problem,” the questioner went on to declare that President Obama is a Muslim, and then asked Trump, “When can we get rid of them?” Rather than contradict the man, Trump chuckled and replied, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things” (”Trump doesn’t challenge anti-Muslim questioner at event”).

Carson’s original statement came in an interview on “Meet the Press,” when he was asked about Trump’s response. Carson then went on to say that he does not believe Islam is compatible with the U.S. Constitution. When he was later pushed to clarify his statement, he cited “Sharia law” as the problem. (”Carson: A Muslim shouldn’t be president” and “Carson doubles down on no Muslims in the White House”).

Several other organizations also issued statements. The Hindu American Foundation noted that “Dr. Carson’s statement echoes a string of comments made in recent years claiming or insinuating a religious litmus test to hold public office. In 2012, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s (D, HI) Hindu faith was also criticized by her challenger, who claimed that Hinduism ‘doesn’t align with the constitutional foundation of the U.S. government.’” The National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, said “As the campaign season advances, we urge all presidential candidates to avoid innuendo and stereotyping of all sorts, including against people based on their faith, particularly American Muslims and, instead, to confront all forms of prejudice and bigotry.” The Jewish Council for Public Affairs declared “The deterioration of political disagreement into personalized attacks and bigoted statements diminishes the electoral process and discourages and alienates potential voters.”

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