Washington - Donald Trump is trying to back away from his
support for a government database to track Muslims in the United States, an
idea that drew sharp rebukes from his Republican presidential rivals and
disbelief from legal experts.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush called the prospect of a registry
"abhorrent." Florida Senator Marco Rubio said the idea was
"unnecessary" and not something Americans would support. Texas
Senator Ted Cruz, who has largely avoided criticising Trump throughout the 2016
campaign, said, "I'm not a fan of government registries of American
The first reference to a database came in a Trump interview
with Yahoo News published on 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
Trump was pressed on the idea of a registry by an NBC News
reporter on Thursday evening. Asked if there should be a database system for
tracking Muslims in the US, 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
Trump also told the reporter that Muslims would "have
to be" registered.
In an interview on Fox News Channel on Friday 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 also said he had had trouble hearing the NBC reporter's
He addressed the issue during a rally in Alabama on
Saturday, telling a crowd that reports on his previous statements were
inaccurate. But he also voiced support for additional surveillance, both of
arriving refugees and certain mosques.
"So here's the story just to set it clear: I want
surveillance of these people. I want surveillance if we have to and I don't
care," said Trump. "I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK."
The attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded
hundreds more have raised fears in the US and prompted calls for new
restrictions on refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
The House of Representatives passed legislation this past
week essentially barring Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the United States. It's
unclear whether the Senate could get enough votes to override a threatened veto
by President Barack Obama.
Civil liberties experts said a database for Muslims would be
unconstitutional on several counts. The libertarian Cato Institute's Ilya
Shapiro said the idea violates basic privacy and liberty rights.
Violation of the Constitution
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University legal expert on
religious liberty, said requiring Muslims to register appears to be a clear
violation of the Constitution's protection of religious freedom.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a
Tennessee rally Friday evening, said, "Mr Trump has attacked Mexican
immigrants, he's attacked women and now he's attacking Muslim Americans. At
some point you have to ask yourself, is that the kind of country we are?"
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who has challenged
Trump's lead in the Republican race, said the US should have a database on
"every foreigner who comes into this country," but he rejected the
idea of tracking US citizens based on their religion.
Carson said he would support government monitoring of
"a mosque or any church or any organization or any school or any press
corps where there was a lot radicalization and things that were