NEW YORK – GOP presidential candidate John McCain says America is better off with a Christian president, and he doesn’t want a Muslim in the Oval Office.
“I admire the Islam. There’s a lot of good principles in it,” he said. “But I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.”
In a wide-ranging interview about religion and faith with the Web site Beliefnet, McCain said he wouldn’t “rule out under any circumstance” someone who wasn’t Christian, but said, “I just feel that that’s an important part of our qualifications to lead.”
A Mormon such as rival candidate Mitt Romney, he said, would be OK.
“The Mormon religion is a religion that I don’t share but I respect.
“More importantly, I’ve known so many people of the Mormon faith who have been so magnificent,” he said.
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McCain later clarified his remarks, saying, “I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and to defend our political values.”
A Muslim rights group ripped the Arizona Republican’s remarks.
“That kind of attitude goes against the American tradition of religious pluralism and inclusion,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
He urged McCain to “clarify his remarks” and “stress his acceptance of political candidates of any faith.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, could not be reached for comment because its offices were closed for the Sukkoth holiday.
In the interview, the senator also said the “Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”
There is no mention of God, Jesus or Christ in the document.
The interview, which included the revelation that McCain is talking to his pastor about undergoing a full-immersion baptism after the campaign, sent Beliefnet’s irreverent “God-o-meter” spinning.
“How can the religious right hate this guy?” the site asked.
Beliefnet columnist David Kuo said McCain was “pandering to what he thinks the Christian conservative community wants to hear” and predicted he “will have a lot of explaining to do about this interview.”
The remarks came as he was starting to show gains in the polls.
McCain alienated evangelical voters in 2000 when he branded the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance.”