Sen. John McCain said in an interview published Saturday that he would prefer a Christian president over someone of a different faith, calling it "an important part of our qualifications to lead."
In an interview with Beliefnet, a multi-denominational Web site that covers religion and spirituality, the Republican presidential hopeful was asked if a Muslim candidate could be a good president.
"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith," McCain said. "But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president."
Later, McCain said, "I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values."
Asked about Republican rivals Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, McCain said, "I think that Governor Romney's religion should not, absolutely not, be a disqualifying factor when people consider his candidacy for president of the United States."
The National Jewish Democratic Council called the Arizona senator's comments repugnant.
The American Jewish Committee issued a statement saying that McCain should know the United States is a democratic society without a religious test for public office.
Amid the criticism, McCain has sought to clarify his remarks. In New Hampshire Sunday, he said the most qualified person could be president, regardless of his or her religion.
The Arizona senator was also asked about the confusion over which Christian denomination he belongs to. "I was raised Episcopalian, I have attended the North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years and I am a Christian," McCain said. He added that he has considered being baptized in the Baptist church, but he does not want to do it during the presidential race because "it might appear as if I was doing something that I otherwise wouldn't do."