Over the course of the last week, Ben Carson has offered up two wholly contradictory answers to what is in fact a rather simple question. Asked during an interview whether he would accept a Muslim as president of the United States, Carson’s first response was categorical. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he submitted on September 20. “I absolutely would not agree with that.” This comment, which was followed up by a host of equally unambiguous contentions, caused something of a storm.

Carson’s second response — which constituted a backtracking of sorts — was conditional. “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam,” he explained, this time more softly. “If they are not willing to reject Sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran. If they are not willing to reject that and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would [oppose them].”

Because it represented the wholesale rejection of an entire group of people, the first of these two positions deserved the criticism that it received. I will not add to it here. Instead, I want to take a closer look at Carson’s second position, which seems to me to be infinitely more defensible, and perhaps even worthy of esteem. As I suggested last week, I am much more interested in individuals than I am in groups, and in consequence have little time for any supposition that rests upon presumptuous collectivization. But — and this is important — to recognize that each candidate is ultimately an individual is by no means to conclude that voters should refrain from asking questions about his religion or his background.