Ben Carson’s campaign pushed back against outrage over his comments regarding Islam, saying there was a “huge gulf” between the Muslim faith and “American values.”
A national Muslim civil liberties group has called for Carson to withdraw from the race after he told "Meet the Press" that he would not agree with having a Muslim in the White House.
Carson campaign spokesman Doug Watts said Carson will likely reach out to members of the Muslim community in wake of the comments but said the interview should be "watched or read carefully."
"He did not say that a Muslim should be prevented from running, or barred from running in any way," Watts said. "He [Carson] just doesn't believe the American people are ready for that."
Carson said Sunday in response to an interview question that "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
When asked if a candidate’s faith should matter to voters, Carson said, "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." When asked if he thought Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson said, "No, I don't, I do not."
Watts acknowledged that Carson's comments had generated controversy but said "this has taken on a little bit of a life of its own."
"Dr. Carson is a strict adherent to the First Amendment — freedom of religion. That includes people of all faith," Watts said. "He has great respect for the Muslim community, but there is a huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith, and our Constitution and American values.
"That can be disputed," Watts continued. "That can be debated. But there's pretty strong evidence to that effect."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Sunday called for Carson to withdraw from the race.
"Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that 'no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,'" the group’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a statement Sunday that "I am very disappointed that Dr. Carson would suggest that a Muslim should not become president of the United States."
"It took us too long to overcome the prejudice against electing a Catholic or an African-American president," he said in a statement. "People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin."
Carson's comments come days after another Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, did not distance himself from a questioner at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire who accused President Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim.
Carson said he has "no reason to doubt" that President Obama was born in the United States and is a Christian.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress, accused both Carson and Trump of "fear mongering."
"For Ben Carson, Donald Trump, or any other Republican politician to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for office is out of touch with who we are as a people," the Democrat from Minnesota said.
"It’s unimaginable that the leading GOP presidential candidates are resorting to fear mongering to benefit their campaigns, and every American should be disturbed that these national figures are engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry," he said in a statement issued on Sunday.