Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips explained why he sent out an e-mail that included the Muslim faith of Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison on a list of reasons not to support him, claiming that Tea Party members ought to “seriously consider” whether they should vote for a candidate who adheres to Islam.
“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 on the Tea Party Nation website Tuesday. “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.”
The original message, which urged supporters to donate to Ellison’s independent challenger Lynn Torgerson, read in part:
“There are a lot of liberals who need to be retired this year, but there are few I can think of more deserving than Keith Ellison. 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.”
Phillips later acknowledged in an interview with The Daily Caller that he was wrong about Ellison being the “only” Muslim in Congress — Ellison was joined by Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, a convert, in 2008 — but he has since defended his post, and said he suspects a number of Tea Partiers 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. It bothers me when a religion says kill the infidels. It bothers me a lot more when I am the infidel.”
He added that he does not think Muslims, or a person of any faith, should be banned from running for Congress, citing a clause in the Constitution that restricts the government from issuing religious tests for office seekers.
When asked if he would vote for a Muslim candidate who was a conservative, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Tea Party Nation is one of many groups that are operating under the “Tea Party” mantle, a decentralized movement that prides itself for operating without a specific leader. Phillips’ organization made headlines when it held a convention in Nashville, Tennessee last February with former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
UPDATE: Ellison responded Wednesday with a statement posted on The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog.
“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,” Ellison said. “…Religious tolerance is a deeply rooted American value, and regardless of political persuasion, it’s a value we must protect.”