Just when we thought metro Atlanta’s Herman Cain had moved past the controversy over his opinions on Islam, he tumbled right back into the fray.
The GOP candidate and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza generated headlines in March when he said he would not hire a Muslim for his Cabinet. Cain later denied he made that statement, a claim we rated Pants on Fire.
In July, Cain ignited another controversy after he told anchor Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" that he thinks communities have the right to ban mosques.
Wallace brought up the issue when he moderated Thursday’s GOP debate in Ames, Iowa.
"You said that communities have the right to ban Muslims from building mosques, before you later apologized. ... How do you reassure people that you know enough to be president of the United States, sir?" Wallace asked.
After some back and forth, Cain replied with this:
"The first point that you raised, about saying that communities have a right to ban mosques, no, that's not exactly what I said. Unfortunately, the people who helped you put that together have misquoted me. I have gone on record, and I put it in a press release that's available at my office that simply says that if anyone misunderstood my intent, I apologize for that. But never will I apologize for saying that Sharia law does not belong in the courts of the United States of America."
That’s "not exactly" what Cain said? Then what did he say?
We contacted a campaign spokeswoman for comment but did not receive a response.
Undeterred, we looked at a transcript and video of the July 17 "Fox News Sunday" episode where Cain supposedly said communities have the right to ban mosques.
Cain’s remarks came as Wallace pressured him to explain his opposition to a mosque proposed for Murfreesboro, Tenn., southeast of Nashville. He had recently said it was an attempt to "sneak" Shariah law into the U.S. legal system.
WALLACE: Don't Americans have a right of whatever religion under the Constitution, which you speak so much about, to free speech and freedom to worship?
CAIN: To the people in Murfreesboro, it is hallowed ground. They are objecting to the intentions of trying to get Sharia law. [...]
WALLACE: But couldn't any community then say we don't want a mosque in our community?
CAIN: They could say that.
So in this exchange, Cain agreed that any community can "say" that they don’t want a mosque in their community. But did Cain mean that they have a right to ban a mosque?
A few seconds later, Cain expanded on his position:
WALLACE: So, you're saying that any community, if they want to ban a mosque ...
CAIN: Yes, they have the right to do that. That's not discriminating based upon religion -- against that particular religion. There is an aspect of them building that mosque that doesn't get talked about. And the people in the community know what it is and they are talking about it.
So not only can a community "say" they oppose a mosque in their town. Cain told Wallace that if a community wants to block a mosque because they oppose Sharia law becoming part of the U.S. legal system, they have "the right" to do so. He even specified that this doesn’t count as religious discrimination.
Now, Cain mentioned during Thursday’s debate that he issued an apology on his "Fox News Sunday" comments, so we took a look at it. We thought it might say that the media misinterpreted him or that he really didn’t think that a community has a right to ban a mosque.
It did not. The closest he came was this:
"I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully."
So where does this leave us?
While Cain did not "exactly" say that "communities have the right to ban mosques," he made this same point. Then he drove it home by adding that this does not count as religious discrimination.
Cain comes awfully close to earning a Pants on Fire. In fact, if he said that he "never said" that communities have the right to ban a mosque, his trousers may well have burst into flames.
But Cain was careful. He said it was not "exactly" what he said. This inched his statement ever so slightly away from patent absurdity. As a result, his claim is merely False.