The latest media “let’s manufacture a controversy to increase our ratings and make Republicans look stupid” kerfuffle (which, admittedly, Republicans seem to excel at cooperating with) involves whether a Muslim is qualified to be President of the United States. Ben Carson doesn’t seem to think so.
One thing I’ve heard from some Catholics is that we should remember when many Americans believed that a Catholic was not qualified to be President, so we should be accepting of a Muslim as a potential candidate for President. However, when I look at the history of this country and Catholic teaching at the time, I am actually understanding of those who were concerned with a Catholic in the White House (not necessarily agree with them, but understand them). For a long time, most Catholic thinkers and leaders did not support religious liberty as Americans have defined it. In situations where Catholics were the minority, Catholics would advocate for greater liberty to practice their religion; however, in Catholic countries, it was argued that Catholicism, being true, deserved more rights than other religions. “Error has no rights” was a common defense for the restriction of the religious rights of non-Catholics. Furthermore, there was no tradition of a separation of Church and State in Catholicism, and it was assumed that political leaders would look to Church leaders for direction on certain issues.
This explains the trepidation that accompanied the idea of a Catholic President. Of course, JFK was able to break through that concern and be elected President in 1960, but one of the reasons he was able to do so is that he promised that he would not be beholden to the Catholic tradition in this matter when running the country, and would honor the commitment to religious liberty as practiced in the United States. This established a precedent in which Catholics running for high office would often go out of their way to distance themselves from Catholic teaching on one issue or another to prove their independence from Rome.
But another major change occurred within the Church itself. At Vatican II the Church jettisoned most of its tradition regarding the political rights of various religious and embraced a more Americanized version of “religious liberty.” By doing so, the Church has made it more palatable for a Catholic to run for high office in this land, and rarely will you hear anyone complain about a Catholic being President (even though we haven’t had one since JFK).
But if Catholicism has a history of political/religious unity and advancement of its rights over other religions, Islam has it in spades. There is no separation between the political sphere and the religious sphere in Islam, and when Muslims have political control over a country, there are very few, if any, rights given to non-Muslims. Christians and Jews have three choices: convert, become a 2nd-class citizen (i.e. pay the Jizya tax and have very limited rights to practice your faith), or die. Those of religions other than Christianity/Judaism usually only have the first and third choices. Of course, in this country Muslims are in a small minority and many American Muslims have embraced a Western view of religious liberty, but that view is one that is contrary to their dominant religious tradition (and contrary to the views of most Muslims worldwide).
So just as many non-Catholic Americans were once legitimately (from an American perspective) concerned with a Catholic President, so too many non-Muslim Americans are today concerned with a Muslim President. The question becomes: would the Muslim candidate be a JFK – rejecting much of his own religious tradition and embracing the American experiment? Or would he be faithful to his religion and seek to impose a more Islamic view on the country? These are the questions that matter when evaluating a potential Muslim candidate, not just blanket statements on whether a Muslim is qualified/unqualified to be President.