Ben Carson’s Argument against Muslim Presidential Eligibility

On the September 20, 2015, Sunday morning television news program, Meet the Press,* moderator Chuck Todd asked Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, “Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Carson replied: “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 [is] consistent with the American constitution, I have no problem.”

Todd then asked, “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?” Carson replied, “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.”

One can discern here, and I will go on to articulate it more explicitly, an argument on behalf of the conclusion that, as I’ll express it:

No Muslims are eligible for the office of President of the United States.

After articulating the argument more explicitly I will go on to offer something of a critique of it.

1. Carson’s argument is composed of two sub-arguments. The first one leads to the conclusion:

No Muslims are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

The argument on behalf of that conclusion has two premises. One is evident in Carson’s belief that Islam is not consistent with the constitution. This, of course, is a thesis widely accepted and often expressed by those thinkers who share at least much of Carson’s hesitancy. One of the many such expressions is that of William Kilpatrick, as offered to us in his September 22, 2015, Crisis Magazine article defending Carson’s point of view, “A Muslim President?”**

… Dr. Carson seems to have the better of the argument when he maintains that there is something in Islam that doesn’t like the Constitution. Islam is not just a faith, but also an all-encompassing political, legal, and moral system. The embodiment of the system is sharia law, which, because it is believed to be of divine origin, is not optional for Muslims. As Carson suggested, a side-by-side comparison of sharia with the U.S. Constitution reveals that the two are almost totally at odds. The sharia proscription against apostasy is in direct contradiction of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Sharia laws against blasphemy clash with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Sharia-prescribed punishments, such as amputation for theft, conflict with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” And so on: the list of irreconcilable differences between sharia and the Constitution is a long one.

Let us take it as given both that some Islamic laws are inconsistent with the Constitution and that, accordingly:

No upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

Let us further adopt that proposition as a premise of the first of Carson’s sub-arguments.

2. The next premise is left quite implicit by Carson. But others make it quite explicit, as Kilpatrick does in his assumption that Islamic or sharia law, and therefore also the laws listed in the paragraph quoted above, “because it is [and they are] believed to be of divine origin, is [and are] not optional for Muslims.” I’ll express that assumption as follows:

All Muslims are upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

With the two premises in hand, we have the following sub-argument;

No upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution are upholders of the constitution in its entirety.

All Muslims are upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

Therefore, no Muslims are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

3. Turning now to the second sub-argument, I assume that Carson would uphold the thesis that:

Only upholders of the constitution in its entirety of Islamic laws are persons eligible to become President of the United States.

This is logically equivalent to:

All persons eligible to become President of the United States are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

With that proposition serving as one of its premises and the conclusion of the first sub-argument as the other, the second sub-argument is as follows:

All persons eligible to become President of the United States are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

No Muslims are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

Therefore, no Muslims are persons eligible to become President of the United States.

4. Now for the critique. First, however, it must be understood that the two sub-arguments are both valid arguments, in the sense of “valid” as that word is used by logicians. That is, they are both such that, if their premises are true, their conclusions must also be true; otherwise put, it is impossible for their premises to be true and their conclusions false; otherwise put again, their conclusions necessarily follow from their premises.

But the question remains: are the two sub-arguments sound, in the sense of “sound” as that word too is used by logicians. That is, are they not only valid, with their conclusions necessarily following from their premises, but also sound, with their premises true and so also their conclusions?

Let us stipulate, given the oath of office that the Constitution requires that presidents take, viz.,

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

that the premise of the second sub-argument, i.e.,

All persons eligible to become President of the United States are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

is true.

Let us next stipulate that the first premise of the first sub-argument, i.e.,

No upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution are upholders of the constitution in its entirety.

is true.

5. There remains but the second premise of the first sub-argument, i.e.,

All Muslims are upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

As it happens, I know and know well many people who are Muslims and who uphold the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment”; they in particular have real reason to favor the guarantee of freedom of religion, do they not?

Now, I willing grant, I have not heard any of them offer their views on every Islamic law which is inconsistent with the Constitution. But at least many are naturalized citizens and have taken the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and so have said:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.***

I think then that I have some good reason to believe that the proposition that:

At least some Muslims are not upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

is true and that therefore the proposition that

All Muslims are upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

is false.

If that is the case, then Carson’s first sub-argument and therefore also his second, though valid, are not sound and we are not bound to accept the conclusion that:

No Muslims are eligible for the office of President of the United States.

And if we are not, then neither is he.

6. Interestingly enough, Carson himself came close to admitting the possibility that the proposition, “All Muslims are upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution,” is false. In their final exchange on the issue, Todd asked him, “And you, would you ever consider voting for a Muslim for Congress?” Carson answered, “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 is. You know, if there’s somebody of any faith, but they say things and their life is 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.”

Carson then is open to seeing a Muslim becoming a member of Congress, at least a Muslim who expresses, and behaves in accordance with views which will “elevate this nation…,” etc. I am left wondering whether Carson has just said, if only by implication and in spirit, that:

All Muslims who are not upholders of Islamic laws inconsistent with the Constitution are [at least in that respect] eligible for the office of President of the United States.

7. Carson, as is well known, is a Christian. Perhaps he might want to consider that, say, an ardent secularist could offer an argument against the eligibility of Christians for the office of President of the United States. All he or she would need to do is to substitute the words “Christians” and “Christian” for “Muslims” and “Islamic” in the two sub-arguments just reviewed. They would read, then:

The First Sub-Argument:

No upholders of Christian laws inconsistent with the Constitution are upholders of the constitution in its entirety.

All Christians are upholders of Christian laws inconsistent with the Constitution.

No Christians are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

The Second Sub-Argument:

All persons eligible to become President of the United States are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

No Christians are upholders of the Constitution in its entirety.

No Christians are persons eligible to become President of the United States.

8. It will not do to claim that there are no Christian laws inconsistent with the Constitution. Savor the following passage from Deuteronomy:

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. 16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a]them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.#

Nor will it do to simply dismiss that passage as but a part of the Old Testament, for there are Christians, as well as Muslims and secularists, who will point to the following passage in which Christ says:

D17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.##

9. Perhaps the Muslim or secularist (or Jewish or Buddhist, etc.) counterparts of Carson might be willing to offer Christians a way out similar to the one proposed above for Muslims, thus:

All Christians who are not upholders of Christian laws inconsistent with the Constitution are [at least in that respect] eligible for the office of the President of the United States.

Until next time.

Richard

* http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/ben-carson-the-full-meet-the-press-interview-528797251922. Accessed October 3, 2015.

** http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/a-muslim-president. Accessed October 3, 2015.

.*** http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test/naturalization-oath-allegiance-united-states-america

# Deuteronomy 20:10-17; New International Version (NIV). https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+20%3A10-17&version=NIV. Accessed October 3, 2015.

## Matthew 5:17-18; New International Version (NIV)https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5:17-18. Accessed October 3, 2015.

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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