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Presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was blasted for characterizing the United States as a “Christian nation.”

On Saturday, in an interview with the non-denominational Web site, McCain made the statement when he was asked if he would support a Muslim running for president. The Republican hopeful said he agreed with the majority of Americans who believe the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, adding that he would prefer to vote for someone who had “a solid grounding” in his faith.

On Monday, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman had harsh words for McCain.

“We would have thought that a senator as experienced and respected as John McCain would place himself above such divisive appeals to religious intolerance,” Foxman said. “His remarks were inaccurate and ill-advised for any candidate seeking to lead a nation as religiously diverse as ours.”

Foxman in a letter appealed to the senator to withdraw his statements, as did Jeffrey Sinensky, the general counsel to the American Jewish Committee.

“Our individual rights cannot be secured if the government promotes one religion over others,” Sinensky said, adding that the founding fathers created a government free of religious ties because they knew all too well about the dangers of a church-state union.

Interfaith Alliance president the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy was equally dismayed by McCain’s thinking, calling his comments “outrageous.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council had harsh words for the senator, too, with its executive director, Ira Forman, saying McCain’s statements were “repugnant.”

After his interview, McCain reportedly contacted beliefnet to clarify that he would support a Muslim running for president if he believed the person running was the most qualified to lead the country.

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