By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called Tuesday for a moratorium on all immigration from countries with “ties to terrorism.”
The comments from Ramsey — a Republican who previously called on fellow Christians to arm themselves — follow a call by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to block all Muslims from entering the United States. Trump’s comments have been widely condemned by rival GOP candidates, party leaders and others.
In a statement, Ramsey said, “While I would not favor an explicitly religious test, I do think it is time to place a moratorium on immigration from a long list of countries with ties to terrorism.” He did not specify which countries he would include.
During Ramsey’s failed bid for the Tennessee governor 2010, he questioned whether Islam is a religion.
“You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it,” Ramsey said at the time.
Federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have upheld that immigration and admission of noncitizens to the United States is a federal responsibility and one managed wholly by the federal government. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery came to the same conclusion in a recent legal opinion.
In October, Ramsey urged Christians to consider getting a handgun carry permit after a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon.
“I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it. Our enemies are armed,” he said. “We must do likewise.”
Ramsey isn’t alone among Tennessee lawmakers in calling for a hard line on immigration. After the attacks in Paris, state Rep. Glen Casada, the chairman of the Republican caucus in the House, called for the National Guard to round up Syrian refugees in the state and return them to federal immigration centers.
That statement drew a rebuke from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who said “we must not lose ourselves” in response to the attacks.
“If we abandon our values by completely shutting our doors to those who seek the freedom we enjoy or mistreating our neighbors who made it here after enduring unimaginable hardships, the terrorists win,” Haslam said.
UPDATE/NOTE: Ramsey’s comments later drew a response from White House spokesman Josh Earnest, according to WSMV TV.
“The rhetoric that he is using only serves to advance the narrative of a terrorist organization that is trying to convince the world that they are representing Islam in a war against the United States and the rest of the world. The fact is, that’s a fantasy. ISIL does not represent Islam, and it’s not just President Obama who has said that. President George W. Bush has said exactly the same thing. The one thing they’re right about, though, is that they are at war with the United States and the rest of the world,” Earnest said.
Earnest says the president has started a coalition of more than 65 nations to destroy ISIS.