Just days after stirring Muslim ire for ripping Islam as "the antithesis of the gospel of Christ," Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee again sharply critiqued the religion, telling an evangelical magazine that Muslims are receiving special treatment "at the expense of others" -- apparently referring to Christians -- and that is "un-American."
In the interview with Christianity Today
, Huckabee was asked about New York Rep. Peter King's controversial plan to hold hearings in March on the alleged radicalization of American Muslims, and Huckabee responded by talking about concerns that Muslims wanted to "impose" the Islamic religious law code known as Sharia on Americans.
Sharia law cannot be used to trump U.S. laws, but conservatives, including Newt Gingrich -- another GOP hopeful for 2012 -- have gained traction with their base by arguing that it can, and Huckabee seemed to be joining that camp.
"We live in a country where people are free to be Muslim. They're not free, however, to impose a Muslim law as if it were civil law," Huckabee, a Baptist and former pastor, said. "If I were to say, okay, everyone must tithe to their local church, people would be outraged."
Huckabee cited a story from 2007 when a campus of the University of Michigan installed foot baths
to accommodate Muslim students -- who comprised 10 percent of the student body -- who wanted a safe facility to wash before their daily prayers. At least 18 other universities also have foot baths for Muslims and any others who want to use them.
"I don't remember anyone ever accommodating me and saying we're going to erect a cross so that we can make sure you're comfortable when you walk across campus," Huckabee said. "I find that the accommodation we're making to one religion at the expense of the others is very un-American." (Many universities do have Christian facilities and symbols, such as chapels and crosses, to accommodate believers or as a legacy of their original church affiliation.)
Appearing on a Fox News show
over the weekend, Huckabee also took aim at Islam as he criticized two Protestant churches that allowed Muslims to worship in their facilities when mosques in the area were too small or under construction.
"If the purpose of a church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I have a hard time understanding that," Huckabee, a Fox host, said while he was a guest on "Fox & Friends." "I mean if a church is nothing more than a facility and a meeting place free for any and all viewpoints, without regard to what it is, then should the church be rented out to show adult movies on the weekend?"
Huckabee added that Islam "is the antithesis of the gospel of Christ." A leading Islamic advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called Huckabee's remarks "inaccurate and offensive" and asked him to apologize. CAIR said it would also help arrange a meeting between the former Arkansas governor and Muslim leaders "to discuss growing Islamophobia in American society."
Huckabee has not responded to either request.
In his Christianity Today interview, Huckabee did weigh in on the "birther" controversy
-- about those who allege President Obama was not born in the United States -- and suspicions among many conservative Christians that Obama is not a Christian or may even be a Muslim. He said Obama is clearly a Christian and dismissed as "inappropriate, wrong-headed, and not helpful to the overall discussion when people try to say he doesn't have a birth certificate or he's a Muslim."
He said people should be focusing on whether Obama's policies are good for the country, "not what did he hear when he sat in church."
"If people went back and heard every sermon I heard when I was a little kid and some of the more fundamentalist pastors were yelling from the pulpit at me, if they took every one of those sermons and lifted out of them certain phrases and things, it could be scandalous, but only out of the context of the bigger picture."
In a similar vein, Huckabee seemed to give his close rival in the Republican sweepstakes
, Mitt Romney, a boost when he said evangelicals should not consider Romney's Mormon faith when they weigh their preferences.
"I don't think they should, unless that person advances something truly bizarre," Huckabee said. (Evangelicals remain deeply suspicious of Mormon beliefs despite the fact that the two groups share many conservative values.) Huckabee said he was more interested in whether candidates live up to the teachings of their own faith.
Elsewhere in the interview, Huckabee maintained his standard line about a 2012 presidential run, saying he has not made up his mind. He said he projects a late summer decision, which would likely be three or four months after candidates including Mitt Romney make their official announcements.
He also casts social conservatives like himself as integral to fiscal conservatism and conservatism in general, pushing back at some of the more libertarian-minded conservatives who want to focus on economic issues at the expense of opposition to things like gay marriage and abortion.