Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson caused an uproar on Sunday when he said in a television interview he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States.
Responding to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Carson said, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
He added said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.
Carson, who is near the top of several early presidential polls, said a president's faith should matter depending on what that faith is. "If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter," he clarified.
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 Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim and called Muslims a "problem" in the United States.
Carson said he has "no reason to doubt" that President Obama was born in the United States and is a Christian.
On "Meet the Press", Trump was asked if he was comfortable with a Muslim being president. Trump responded, "It's something that at some point could happen…Would I be comfortable? I don't know if we have to address it right now."
Carson's comments angered Minnesota Democratic Representative Keith Ellison, who is the first Muslim congressman in the United States.
"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," Ellison said in a statement quoted by CNN.
"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 added.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a statement he was "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," Sanders added. "People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin."
Carson was also condemned by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called on 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, according to NBC News.
A top campaign official later responded to the criticism and said Carson will likely reach out to members of the Muslim community.
The campaign official said Carson's interview on "Meet the Press" 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," Carson campaign spokesman Doug Watts told NBC.
Watts said the people would ultimately decide. "He [Carson] just doesn't believe the American people are ready for that," Watts said.
Watts added, "Dr. Carson is a strict adherent to the First Amendment — freedom of religion. That includes people of all faith."
"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," he continued, adding, "That can be disputed. That can be debated. But there's pretty strong evidence to that effect."