McCain said he would prefer a Christian president.
(CNN)- GOP presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, says he feels religion should play a role in one's selection of a presidential candidate. "I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is 'Will this person carry on the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'"
McCain made the comments an in interview with beliefnet, a website that covers religious issues and affairs.
"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith," he said when asked about a Muslim candidate running for president.
Mr. McCain contacted beliefnet after the interview to clarify his remarks. "I would vote for a Muslim if he or she was the candidate best able to lead the country and defend our political values," he said.
"The Senator did not intend to assert that members of one religious faith or another have a greater claim to American citizenship over another," Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communication director told CNN when asked for clarification on his comments. "Read in context, his interview with beliefnet makes clear that people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely. In the interview he also observed that the values protected by the Constitution, by which he meant values such as respect for human life and dignity, are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, is America a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim."
McCain also said people should not be quick to dismiss his rival in the GOP race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, simply because of his Mormon religion. "I believe that the Mormon religion is a religion that I don't share, but I respect," he said. "I think that Governor Romney's religion should not, absolutely not, be a disqualifying factor when people consider his candidacy for President of the United States, absolutely not."
He said he did agree with a recent poll that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."
"But I say that in the broadest sense," he said. "The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, 'I welcome only Christians.' We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are a nation founded on Christian principles."
McCain was also asked to clarify his being identified an Episcopalian, yet recently referring to himself as Baptist. "[It was] one comment on the bus after hours," he said. "I meant to say that I practice in a – I am a Christian and I attend a Baptist church." McCain said he was raised Episcopalian, but has attended a Phoenix Baptist church for many years.
When asked if he was close to taking the final step, and undergoing a Baptist baptism, he said he has been in discussions with his pastor about it. "But I would not anticipate going through that during this presidential campaign," he said. "I am afraid it might appear as if I was doing something that I otherwise wouldn't do."
- CNN Political Desk Editor Jamie Crawford