Ron Ramsey, the lieutenant governor of Tennessee, has been criticized by an Islamic leader for questioning whether Islam is a cult and if the world's second-largest religion is eligible for protection under the U.S. Constitution.
During a campaign stop in Chattanooga earlier this month, Ramsey, a Republican candidate for governor, said, "You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it."
"Now certainly, we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face," Ramsey said.
Ramsey's comments, which were recorded on video, were made as he answered a question about a proposed mosque and Islamic community center in the town of Murfreesboro, The Associated Press reported.
"Now, you know, I'm all about freedom of religion. I value the First Amendment as much as I value the Second Amendment as much as I value the Tenth Amendment and on and on and on," Ramsey said. "But you cross the line when they try to start bringing Sharia Law here to the state of Tennessee, to the United States. We live under our Constitution and they live under our Constitution."
Ibrahim Hooper with the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations told AP Ramsey's comments are a sign of "a disturbing trend in our nation in which it is suggested that American Muslims should have fewer or more restricted constitutional rights than citizens of other faiths."
Hooper urged Ramsey to meet with members of the Muslim community in his state "who can offer him balanced and accurate information about Islam."
In response, Ramsey said he's concerned that "far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion."
"It's time for American Muslims who love this country to publicly renounce violent jihadism and to drum those who seek to do America harm out of their faith community," he said.
The Tennessee gubernatorial primary is Aug. 5. Ramsey goes up against Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga.
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