A prominent leader of the Tea Party movement has reiterated his view that voters should cast their ballots against Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, in part because he is a Muslim.
Judson Phillips, founder of the Nashville-based Tea Party Nation, had sent out an e-mail
Monday calling on voters to elect Ellison's independent challenger, Lynn Torgerson, because "Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress."
Ellison, who also faces Republican Joel Demos as he tries for a third term, has also "helped congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza," Phillips wrote.
Phillips' argument was a lighted match thrown into a gas-filled campaign season, but he is not backing down -- except for acknowledging that there is actually another Muslim member of Congress, Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson.
"I am not going to apologize because I'm bothered by a religion that says kill the infidel, especially when I am the infidel," Phillips wrote Tuesday on the website of the Tea Party Nation
, one of the more prominent of the many tea party organizations, and one that has enjoyed support from Sarah Palin. "Should we vote out Keith Ellison just because he is a Muslim? No. But his beliefs define his character and his character is a central issue."
In a follow-up interview with The Daily Caller
, Phillips claimed that many members of the tea party movement, which has struggled with perceptions that it is dominated by white males and hostile to minorities, would agree with him.
"A majority of tea party members, I suspect, are not fans of Islam," Phillips said. "I, personally have a real problem with Islam. With Islam, you have a religion that says kill the Jews, kill the infidels."
Phillips repeated those sentiments in an interview
published in Thursday's edition of The Washington Post.
Ellison also took to The Post's website to pen a response that called on Americans to reject calls to "hate, bigotry, and fear."
"We cannot allow the politics of fear to drive our political discourse," Ellison wrote
. "I issue a call to civility, and urge Americans to reject the divisive rhetoric of Republican Tea Party leaders like Judson Phillips; including calls for my defeat solely because of my religion."
He added: "I know that some don't share my political views. This is OK. In America, we cherish our diversity of views. But an American's religion is their own business and no one should be excluded based on considerations like religion, race, sex, etc."
In his interview with The Daily Caller, Phillips said that based on the Constitution's prohibition on religious tests for public office, he does not think Muslims or any believer should be barred from running for Congress.
But when asked if he would vote for a Muslim candidate who was a conservative, Phillips replied, "I don't know."