WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Republican presidential candidates on Friday swiftly condemned Donald Trump’s call for requiring Muslims in the United States to register in a national database, drawing a sharp distinction with the GOP front-runner.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Trump’s proposal “abhorrent.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Trump was trying to “divide people.” And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has largely avoided criticizing Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, said that while he was a fan of the billionaire businessman, “I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens.”
“The First Amendment protects religious liberty and I’ve spent the past several decades defending the religious liberty of every American,” Cruz told reporters before a town hall-style event in Sioux City, Iowa.
The rebuke followed Trump’s call Thursday for a mandatory database to track Muslims in the U.S. In a video posted on MSNBC.com, Trump was asked whether Muslims would be required to register. He replied, “They have to be.” He said Muslims would be signed up at “different places” and said the program would be “all about management.”
Religious and civil liberties experts said Trump’s idea is unconstitutional on several counts. The libertarian Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro said the idea also violates basic privacy and liberty rights.
The comments follow the terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, elevating fears of attacks in the U.S. and prompting calls for new restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton took to Twitter Friday and challenged all Republican candidates to disavow Trump’s comments.
“This is shocking rhetoric,” she wrote. “It should be denounced by all seeking to lead this country.”
Several did just that.
“You’re talking about internment, you’re talking about closing mosques, you’re talking about registering people, and that’s just wrong,” Bush said Friday on CNBC.
A spokesman for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the candidate “does not support databases based on one’s religion.”
Kasich, the Ohio governor, said requiring people to register with the federal government because of their religion “strikes against all that we have believed in our nation’s history.”
Kasich has faced criticism following the Paris shooting for saying he would set up an agency with a “mandate” to promote what he calls “Judeo-Christian values” overseas to counter Islamist propaganda.
The campaign trail comments come amid a debate on Capitol Hill about refugees from the Middle East. The House passed legislation Thursday essentially barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has slotted the bill for possible Senate consideration, though it’s unclear whether the chamber could get enough votes to override a veto by Obama, who opposes the measure.
The unified pushback against Trump was rare. Republicans have vacillated in their handling of other inflammatory comments from the bellicose billionaire, wary of alienating the front-runner’s supporters but also increasingly concerned that he’s managed to maintain his grip on the GOP race deep into the fall.
Legal experts quickly weighed in to outline the unconstitutionality of Trump’s proposal.
“Individuals cannot be singled out for government surveillance and monitoring based on their religious beliefs,” said Steven Shapiro, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom.
“What the First Amendment does and what it should do is drive the government to use neutral criteria,” Hamilton said. “You can use neutral criteria to identify terrorists. What it can’t do is engage in one-religion bashing. That won’t fly in any court.”
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has challenged Trump’s standing atop the GOP field, raised eyebrows Thursday when he compared blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. to handling a rabid dog.
“If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson told reporters at a campaign stop in Alabama. “It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs, but you’re putting your intellect into motion.”
In New Hampshire on Friday, Carson said the U.S. should have a database on “every foreigner who comes into this country,” but he rejected the idea of tracking U.S. citizens based on their religion.
“One of the hallmarks of America is that we treat everybody the same,” he said. “If we’re just going to pick out a particular group of people based on their religion, based on their race, based on some other thing, that’s setting a pretty dangerous precedent.”
At an event Friday in South Carolina at which Trump was interviewed on stage, he was not asked about the database idea.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned both Trump and Carson’s comments as “Islamophobic and unconstitutional.”
“Donald Trump and Ben Carson are contributing to an already toxic environment that may be difficult to correct once their political ambitions have been satisfied,” CAIR’s Robert McCaw said in a statement.
The first reference to a database for Muslims came in Trump’s interview with Yahoo News published earlier Thursday in which the billionaire real estate mogul did not reject the idea of requiring Muslims to register in a database or giving them special identification cards noting their religion.
“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump told Yahoo News.
He also suggested he would consider warrantless searches, according to Yahoo, saying, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before.”
“Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
Asked by reporters Thursday night to explain his Yahoo comments, Trump suggested his response had been misconstrued. “I never responded to that question,” he said.
CUOMO BLASTS POLITICIANS REJECTING SYRIAN REFUGEES
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has weighed in on the divisive question of what to do about Syrian refugees.
“I have a question for the Governors who say they will refuse to let the refugees in: How?” Cuomo wrote in a Facebook post. “Where does it say in your state’s constitution that you can refuse a person place by the Federal Government? What are you going to do, have your militia stand on the borders of your state?”
Cuomo added that New York welcomes immigrants.
“If the day comes when America says ‘close the gates, build the wall,’ then I say take down the Statue of Liberty, because we’ve gone to a different place,” Cuomo wrote.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said his state would accept them.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)