Republican presidential candidates held a debate on Thursday night and of course discussed a wide range of topics, including a handful of excellent questions that raised religious liberty and church-state issues: everything from religious profiling to Islamophobia to the controversy surrounding Kim Davis and government officials’ responsibility to follow the law despite religious objections.
I will leave it to you to decide whether the candidate responses lived up to the questions! Below are substantial excerpts from the Washington Post transcript of both the first and second debates of the night, questions that touched on religious liberty and church-state issues.
HEMMER: . . .Governor Gilmore. Who are the moderate Muslims do you seek advice and counsel from on how to deal with the threat from radical Islamic terrorism?
GILMORE: You know Bill, that raises, I think, the question of the future of the Republican party. The question is — first of all, I stand second to no one in standing up to radical Islamism. I understand that ISIS is a piece of that but it is a world-wide phenomena that has manifested itself in Paris, in 9/11, in San Bernardino, in Boston.
I recognize all that. But I also recognize this. This is a strain of Islamism that cannot be supported and cannot be stood for. And what we need is for people in the Muslim community in the United States to stand up and be counted and to say that this is not right.
And yes, I have met with some people. And I’m not going to identify who they are. I met with them last week. And they told me some terrible stories about how they have been harassed and their children have seen them be harassed.
And I said to them. You have got to stand up and condemn this radical Islamism because it’s the war of ideas that we are going to have to win to go along with our military conflicts that are coming forward.
But the point is Bill…we cannot have a Republican party that scapegoats anyone, Hispanics, Muslims, any women, African Americans, anyone. If that becomes the future of the Republican party, I don’t want to be a part of that.
KELLY: People are worried. They’re worried about what’s happening in the country and about a domestic terror attack, as all of you know. Now, when combating this threat, Senator Rubio, you’ve advocated closing down mosques — we’ll get back to you.
Well, you have advocated closing down — closing down mosques, diners, any place where radicalization is occurring. You told me that. But the Supreme Court has made clear that hateful speech is generally protected by the First Amendment.
In other words, radical Muslims have the right to be radical Muslims, unless they turn to terror. Doesn’t your position run afoul of the First Amendment?
RUBIO: Megyn, that’s the problem. Radical Muslims and radical Islam is not just hate talk. It’s hate action. They blow people up. Look what they did in San Bernardino.
Look at the attack they inspired in Philadelphia, that the White House still refuses to link to terror, where a guy basically shot a police officer three times.
He told the police, “I did it because I was inspired by ISIS,” and to this day, the White House still refuses to acknowledge it had anything to do with terror.
Look, the threat we face from ISIS is unprecedented. There has never been a jihadist group like this. They have affiliates in over a dozen countries now.
They are the best funded radical jihadist group in the history of the world, and they have shown a sophisticated understanding of the laws of other countries on how to insert fighters into places, and they are actively plotting to attack us here at home and around the world.
We must keep America safe from this threat. And yes, when I am president of the United States, if there is some place in this country where radical jihadists are planning to attack the United States, we will go after them wherever they are, and if we capture them alive, they are going to Guantanamo.
KELLY: Senator Paul, do you agree with that? We’re gonna close down mosques, we’re gonna close down diners where we think radical thinking’s (ph) occurring? (CROSSTALK)
PAUL: Yeah (ph), no, I think that’s a — that’s a huge mistake, to be closing down mosques. But I would say that if you want to defend the country, it begins with border security. And this is where I’ve had my disagreement with Senator Rubio.
KELLY: Governor Christie, let’s talk about profiling. . . . In December, two radical Muslims killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Neighbors of the terrorists said that they did not report the couple to law enforcement prior to the crime, because they were afraid that they would be accused of profiling.
Now, you have said that we should not profile. How do you square that with the San Bernardino case?
CHRISTIE: Well, because you can do it without profiling, Megyn, when you do it on the facts. What those facts knew was that these folks had weapons. They knew that they were talking about trying to take our country and attack it.
That’s not profiling, that’s law enforcement. And that’s the difference between somebody who knows how to do this and somebody who’s never done it before.
KELLY: They didn’t know they were going to attack the country.
CHRISTIE: They knew they were talking about the issues of attacking people, Megyn. They knew that.
KELLY: That’s not true. The neighbors said they saw men going in and out of the garage. They saw packages being delivered. They saw Muslims, and they did not think that was enough to call the cops. Do you?
CHRISTIE: Listen, I think that what people should do is use their common sense. And the fact is, let law enforcement make those decisions. I’ve told people that from the time I was U.S. attorney 13 years ago.
It’s not for them to make those decisions about whether or not something is legal or illegal, or profiling or not. You see something that’s suspicious, you call law enforcement and let law enforcement make those decisions.
That’s what should be done. That can be done. That can be done without profiling people. What that is, is just common sense. They thought something was wrong.
KELLY: Dr. Carson, this week a female Muslim who served in the U.S. Air Force asked Hillary Clinton the question, she asked whether the United States is still the best place in which to raise her three Muslim children. Given what she perceives as a rise in Islamaphobia in this country. Do you think the GOP messaging on Muslims has stoked the flames of bias on this as the Democrats suggest, and how would you answer this veteran?
CARSON: Well, I don’t know about the GOP messaging, but I can tell you about my messaging. You know, need to stop allowing political correctness to dictate our policies, because it’s going to kill us if we don’t.
CARSON: And in the Holy Land Foundation trial in 2006 in Texas, they had a memorandum, an explanatory memorandum that talked about the fact that Americans would be easy to overcome and to commit civilization jihad because they were going to be trying to protect the rights of the very people who were trying to subvert them.
But I believe in the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy. Teddy Roosevelt said, we are a nation of immigrants. As such, everybody is welcome from any race, any country, any religion, if they want to be Americans. If they want to accept our values and our laws. If not, they can stay where they are.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we had a case study on religious liberty just this last summer. A county clerk in Kentucky named Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruling, saying that it violated her religious beliefs.
Governor Christie, you said that she must follow the law or be moved to another job that would be in keeping with her conscience. But some conservatives say that that violates her religious liberty.
CHRISTIE: No, what I said, Chris, was that the law needs to be followed. And that someone in that office has to do their job. So if Ms. Davis wanted to step aside and get rid of her ability to be able to do that, there should be someone else in that office who it didn’t violate their conscience so they could follow the law of the state of Kentucky.
I never said that Ms. Davis should either lose her job or that she had to do it. But what I did say was that the person who came in for the license needed to get it. And so if there’s someone in that organization, and it turns out there was, who was willing to be able to do that, that’s what we should do.
But just as importantly, and I agree with what John said. You know, we all have our own individual interpretations of our faith. And here’s the problem with what’s going on around the world. The radical Islamic jihadists, what they want to do is impose their faith upon each and every one of us — every one of us. And the reason why this war against them is so important is that very basis of religious liberty.
They want everyone in this country to follow their religious beliefs the way they do. They do not want us to exercise religious liberty. That’s why as commander in chief, I will take on ISIS, not only because it keeps us safe, but because it allows us to absolutely conduct our religious affairs the way we find in our heart and in our souls. As a Catholic, that’s what I want to do. And no matter what your faith is, that’s what I want you to be able to do.
RUBIO: . . . [Y]ou’ve just asked a very fundamental question about the role of faith in our country. And I think this is an important question. I think if you do not understand that our Judeo-Christian values are one of the reasons why America is such a special country, you don’t understand our history. You see, why are we one of the most generous people in the world — no, the most generous people in the world? Why do Americans contribute millions of dollars to charity?
It is not because of the tax writeoff. It is because in this nation, we are influenced by Judeo-Christian values that teach us to care for the less fortunate, to reach out to the needy, to love our neighbor. This is what’s made our nation so special.
And you should hope that our next president is someone that is influence by their faith. Because if your faith causes you to care for the less fortunate, it is something you want to see in your public figures. And when I’m president, I can tell you this, my faith will not just influence the way I’ll govern as president, it will influence the way I live my life.
RUBIO: Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this earth for 80 years, but to live an eternity with my creator. And I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do.
QUESTION: I’m Nabela Noor. I’m a Muslim American born and raised in the U.S. who creates beauty and lifestyle videos on Youtube.
In 2015, the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. has tripled, and on social media, where I spend a lot of time, I’ve seen many attacks directed towards fellow Muslims. This culture of hatred is only driving ISIS to radicalize, recruit and incite violence.
As president, what would you do to address this toxic climate and promote increased tolerance in the United States?
WALLACE: Governor Bush, how do you answer Nabela?
BUSH: Well first of all, I think it’s important that when we’re running for the highest office in the land that we recognize that we’re living in dangerous times and we have to be serious about it, that our words have consequences.
Donald Trump, for example — I’m glad — I mentioned his name again just if anybody was missing him…
BUSH: … Mr. Trump believed that in reaction to people’s fears that we should ban all Muslims. Well, that creates an environment that’s toxic in our own country. Nobela (ph) is a rising entrepreneur. She wants to pursue the American dream. She’s an American citizen. She should not feel uncomfortable about her citizenship. She’s not the threat. The threat is Islamic terrorism.
We need to focus our energies there, not these broad, blanket, kind of statements that will make it harder for us to deal with ISIS. We need to deal with ISIS in the caliphate. We need a strategy to destroy ISIS there. You can’t do that without the cooperation of the Muslim world because they’re as threatened as we are.
So, I think it’s important for us to be careful about the language we use, which is why I’ve been critical of Donald Trump. . . . We’re never going to win elections if we don’t have a more broader unifying message.