NASHVILLE, July 28 (UPI) -- A gubernatorial candidate in Tennessee said he was talking about militant Muslims when he dropped the word "cult" in remarks about religious freedom and Islam.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told The Tennessean he "has no problem" with Muslims practicing Islam in a peaceful fashion and that his controversial statements earlier this month were in the context of radical Muslims who advocate violence.
"It's undeniable that there's a portion of Islam that's been co-opted by a radical faction that promotes violence not only against Americans but around the world," Ramsey told the newspaper. "That's what I'm talking about."
The Tennessean said Wednesday Ramsey, a Republican, stirred up national headlines and angry reactions from Muslim leaders in mid-July when he said at an appearance in Chattanooga that religious freedom protections might not cover radical ideas like the introduction of Shariah law in the United States.
"Now you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, a way of life or cult, whatever you want to call it?" he said, according to the newspaper. "We do protect our religions, but at the same time, this is something that we are going to have to face."
While Ramsey's opponents largely steered clear of the flap this week, Muslim leaders called the remarks political and not reflective of the true nature of American Muslims.
"It's election season," said Mwafaq Mohammed, president of the Salahadeen Center of Nashville. "He doesn't have the facts."