June 13th, 2011
11:17 PM ET

At debate, Republican candidates spar over Islam

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - There weren’t too many sharp differences among the Republican presidential candidates in Monday night’s New Hampshire debate, but a crack did emerge over how Islam and Muslims ought to be treated in the United States.

The CNN debate opened with discussions on economic issues, but later veered toward faith-based matters like the role of religion in candidates’ decision making, abortion, gay marriage – and how the United States ought to treat Muslims living within its borders.

The exchange on that issue opened with a question to former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who had said previously that he wouldn’t feel comfortable appointing a Muslim to his presidential Cabinet.

“I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us,” Cain said at Monday night’s debate. “And so when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones who are trying to kill us.”

Cain went further, addressing the prospect of Sharia, or Muslim law, being applied in the United States, which some conservatives say constitutes a growing threat to the American legal system.

“I don’t believe in Sharia law in American courts,” Cain said Monday. “I believe in American laws in American courts, period.”

“There have been instances in New Jersey, there was an instance in Oklahoma , where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia law,” he continued. “I was simply saying, very emphatically, American laws in American courts.”

Cain also said he would ask Muslims seeking jobs in his administration “certain questions … to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who spoke next, appeared to brush aside Cain’s concerns about Sharia and his suspicions of American Muslims.

“Of course, we're not going to have Sharia law applied in U.S. courts. That's never going to happen,” Romney said. "We have a Constitution and we follow the law.”

Romney then appeared to defend American Muslims, even if he didn’t mention them specifically.

“We recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” he said. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance. That's in fact why some of the earliest patriots came to this country and why we treat people with respect, regardless of their religious persuasion.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly jumped in to push back on Romney, siding more with Cain over the issue of Islam. Gingrich invoked Faisal Shahzad, the so-called Times Square bomber of 2010, who is a U.S. citizen from Pakistan.

“Now, I just want to go out on a limb here,” Gingrich said. “I'm in favor of saying to people, 'If you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period. '”

“We did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists,” Gingrich continued. “And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.”

Cain’s and Gingrich’s comments on American Muslims supplied some of the night’s biggest applause lines.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Herman Cain • Islam • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Politics

soundoff (206 Responses)
  1. JP0

    Bigots, all except Romney who had better be promoting religious tolerance if he expects any to come his way.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  2. steph


    June 14, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Mike

      God Bless you and keep you for posting this video. Having lived in the Hell on Earth that is Afghanistan, I can attest to the veracity of the facts stated in the video.

      June 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • ProudMuslim

      Truth always prevails.

      June 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  3. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Timothy McVay wasn't Muslim, he was a home grown terrorist. Americans have got to learn to stop profiling because the enemy is within.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Jasociety

      Right you are Claudia! Even more recently we have Jared Loughner...

      June 14, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Mike

      Claudia, the question is not whether or not to profile. The question is whether or not one will lose one's soul. Islam is a sure path to Hell.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  4. Marie Kidman


    June 14, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  5. Mike

    What I find so mind numbingly infuriating about most of these posts is how ignorant the authors are to the true nature of Islam. I can only assume the authors have never had to live in a Muslim society, as have I. Islam is a Satanic Cult. I Peter 5:8

    June 14, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • xyz

      And you're still alive after living in a Muslim society? I thought they wanted to kill all non-Muslims. I think you are posting from your grave. Stupid moron.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Jasociety

      I'm an atheist so in a way I don't care, but, I think that moderate Muslims are really no different than moderate Christians and the extremes even share more similarities. if you really look at it both are Satanic in that both BELIEVE in Satan and without Satan to pit a "saviour" against you are left with nothing but having to blame the god you revere for the bad and praise him for the good. Talk about creating confusion.... Oh well like they say, religion is an opiate for the masses.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • BG

      @ Jasociety

      Good little Marxist. Good boy. Here's a cookie.

      June 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  6. Eric G

    Nope, still don't see a Republican candidate that can beat Obama in a general election. I think Romney is probably the most capable, and might make a decent president, but I think his campaign will be damaged by his own party. Too much right wing extremist baggage. Obama will crush him.

    I don't necessarily think Obama is a better choice, but this is not about who would make a better President. This is about who can win an election.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  7. michelle

    It is early but II didn't see a winner at all last night. None stayed on the topic. They kept bashing Obama on every questions because they don't want anyone to know they have the same exact plans for our future as Walker from Wisconsin. Ron Paul and Herman "The Monster" Cain seems very angry more than passionate. Michelle seems like she's hiding something. Like the amount of help she's had taking care of 28 kids that normal people don't get. Pawlenty is scared of Romney and he and Newt will not be chosen by majority of Americans for President. The analyst on CNN lied through heir teeth last night saying they all did well. I missed the first airing so I watched the replay. CNN should be ashamed for that mess last night. Michelle did horrible. No one asked if she was running for president last night, right now we just want to hear what language your speaking. As usual running away from the subject. I did get a great laugh out of it all. Finally none can count to 30. They all missed the mark on that one.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Mike

      Careful, michelle. "The Monster" smacks of racism.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  8. Slowgun

    Cain’s and Gingrich’s comments on American Muslims supplied some of the night’s biggest applause lines.


    This line clearly states the shape of Republicans these days...Ignorance is their base.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Mike

      Your assumption is that those providing the applause are all Republicans. Could it be that you are out of synch with the average American? Pay careful attention. Across Western Europe, as well as within our own shores, average people are becoming aware of the growing menace of Islam. Mat 6:33

      June 14, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Christine

      Nonsense.. people are sick to death of 'political correctness", in regard to Muslims.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Slowgun: You could be right. You could also be right if you say that the fear-mongering they have done in regards to muslims in this country is working in their favor.

      June 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Speaking

      Good point.
      I'd say their fear-mongering is working on the ditto-heads filling the audience, of cour$e, but what about everyone else?

      June 15, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  9. Marcello

    Two points for Romney. And a dunce cap for Cain and Gingrich.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  10. xyz

    Job interview. 3 candidates:

    1. Are you planning to kill us? "No". OK you're in. Ends up killing someone..
    2. Are you planning to kill us? "Yes". Next candidate. Still ends up killing someone.
    3. Are you planning to kill us? "I don't know". Could kill himself or someone else.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  11. Jasociety

    Seriously? Newt Gingrich just lumped religion in with Communism and the Nazi party neither of which have anything to do with religion. The fact that this has been brought up at a presidential debate is appauling and the fact that someone would question a Muslim's ability to officiate in public office should look at how much the christian has encroached upon our civil liberties by trying to legislate morality.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • BG

      @ Jasociety

      First you're an atheist.. then you're defending muslims. You're really just another confused little pup, aren't you...

      June 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I think a confused pup would be someone who thinks an atheist isn't capable of respecting the religious

      June 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • BG

      @ Stevie7

      Let me get this straight... Atheists can criticize christians, but they 'respect' muslims?

      This should be good...

      June 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • FairGarden

      An athiest can defend a person of any religion when they feel that person is being unfairly attacked. This really shouldn't be that hard to comprehend. But since it apparently is to you, let me give you an example. Let's say someone says that all Catholic priests are pedophiles. Pointing out that this is ridiculous, in effect defending the majority of Catholic priests, does not make me any less of an athiest.

      June 15, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  12. xyz

    Does this black man realize how Islam has saved so many of his fellows blacks from a life of crime.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Christine

      What drival.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  13. xyz

    I think Cain and Gingrich need to pass thru the "Am I a human test"?

    June 14, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  14. PeterTF

    This is really just too stupid for words and little more than a cheap attempt to fan the flames of bigotry for personal political gain. I don't know who should be more embarrassed, Cain and Gingrich, or anyone who takes them seriously?

    Cain won't appoint Muslims who are trying to kill us. Oh wow! Gingrich only want Muslims in his administration that are loyal to the US. How about Catholics or Jews or Mormons? Do they have to be loyal? Yes. Duh! Obviously anyone in government, or for that matter any citizen, is expected to be loyal to their country as is the case with roughly 99.999999% of Muslims, just as it is with 99.9999999% of Protestants. The incidence of so-called radical Muslims attempting to infiltrate the highest reaches of the US gov't = 0%

    The only thing that makes this an issue is that it capitalizes on fear, polls well and divides people all good elements in primary election strategy.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  15. Wes

    The republicans for most part are idiots when answering questions and newt and cain are just there for poltical fodder. Of course no one wnats someone in their admin who will try to do harm to the country and of course, that goes for all different spectrums of society and that goes without saying. So when cain the idiots said "“And so when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones who are trying to kill us.” If he has to state that he wouldn't want someone in his admin that are trying to kill us than he does not belong in the WH, to say that is just pathetic and shows his lack of common sense.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  16. Redleg

    Is Cain trying to have Godfathers hit by an EEO complaint? I assume this is how he normally conducts business.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  17. Karl

    Before taking office, politicians and government workers should make a pledge to put thier country before thier religion. That would remove the need for a litmus/loyalty tests. Seems simple enough.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • BG

      Here you go, Karl. How's this sound?

      I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Const itution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

      June 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  18. Gisabun

    Not surprising how the Republicans would react.

    June 14, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  19. Dave

    Everyone take note of some of the idiotic questions that King asked and the fact that he asked about gun control and gay marriage and abortion etc...
    The reason I say this is because they never seem to ask the Democrats the same questions. They stick with the bigger issues.

    June 14, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • tbirdfla

      For the same reasons they don't teach calculus in 3rd grade.

      June 14, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  20. Luke

    The levels of sheer ignorance on this topic just amuses me. Here are a few facts for these candidates, and commentors, to chew on.

    in 2010, there were 10 confirmed terrorist plots against the US government by muslims, but there 25 by Christians. Two and half more times! And yet they talk about this stuff. It's not only mind boggling, but also disturbing.

    June 14, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Ron

      I agree Luke. As if all terrorists lived in the Middle East.

      June 14, 2011 at 9:02 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.