WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is facing major backlash for remarks he made Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press about his opposition to a Muslim in the White House.
Carson told host Chuck Todd that he could not advocate a Muslim president, and further said he believes Islam to be inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. Carson was responding to a question of whether a president's faith should matter.
"It depends on what their faith is," Carson answered, adding that he would "absolutely not" agree with the choosing of a Muslim to lead the U.S. government. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.
"I absolutely would not agree with that."
The remarks from the typically soft-spoken Carson, who has appeared in both prime-time GOP debates so far, have stirred criticism among voters, Democrats and members of the physician's own party.
"The constitution provides that there should be no religious test for public office," Republican candidate Ted Cruz told NBC News. "And I'm a constitutionalist."
Muslim leaders have criticized Carson's remarks, and one national Islamic group has even called for him to drop out of the race.
"Ben Carson is wrong today to assume and say that American Muslims should not be president of the U.S.," Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said at a news conference Monday. "We ask Mr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead."
"His views are in contradiction with the U.S. Constitution," Awad added.
Monday, Carson's campaign responded to the backlash by attempting to clarify the context of the Republican challenger's words.
"He did not say that a Muslim should be prevented from running, or barred from running in any way. He just doesn't believe the American people are ready for that," campaign spokesman Doug Watts said Monday. "This [issue] 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 added. "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."
Carson's remarks immediately fueled disagreement on the other side of the aisle.
"I am very disappointed that Dr. Carson would suggest that a Muslim should not become president of the United States," Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders said. "It took us too long to overcome the prejudice against electing a Catholic or an African-American president. People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin."