Washington: Donald Trump's support for a government database to track Muslims in the United States is drawing sharp rebukes from his Republican president rivals as they try to distance themselves from a proposal that legal experts say is unconstitutional.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called the prospect of a registry "abhorrent." Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the idea was "unnecessary" and not something Americans would support. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has largely avoided criticizing Trump throughout the 2016 campaign, said, "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 in Sioux City, Iowa.
The first reference to a database came in a Trump interview with Yahoo News published Thursday. When asked about requiring Muslims to register in a database or carry a form of special identification noting their religion, Trump said,"We're going to have to look at a lot of things very closely."
Trump was pressed on the idea of a registry by an NBC News reporter Thursday evening while the candidate campaigned in Iowa. Asked if there should be a database system for tracking Muslims in the United States, Trump said, "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases."
The reporter asked if that was something Trump would put in place as president. Trump replied: "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely."
The billionaire real estate mogul also told the reporter that Muslims would "have to be" registered and said that the registration process could occur at "different places."
In an interview on Fox News Channel yesterday evening, Trump tried to clarify his position. "I want a watch list for the Syrian refugees that (President Barack) Obama's going to let in if we don't stop him as Republicans," he said.
He said he had trouble hearing the NBC reporter's questions. He was not asked specifically if he disavowed a general registry for Muslims living in the country, and he did not condemn the idea on his own.
"I want to have watch lists. I want to have surveillance. I mean, we're not a bunch of babies," he said.
Trump has also voiced support for closing certain mosques as a way to contain the terrorist threat in the U.S.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. The attacks have raised fears in the US and prompted calls for new restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
The House passed legislation this past week essentially barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the United States.