Muslim and Jewish groups on Monday sharply criticized Sen. John McCain's comments that he would prefer a Christian president to lead the United States.
The Arizona Republican's remarks came in an interview with Beliefnet, a Web site that covers religious issues and affairs.
"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who has a grounding in my faith," the GOP presidential hopeful told the Web site in an interview published Saturday.
McCain also said he agreed with a recent poll that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation," he said.
On Sunday night, McCain sought to clarify his remarks while campaigning in Hollis, New Hampshire. "What I do mean to say is the United States of America was founded on the values of Judeo-Christian values, which were translated by our founding fathers which is basically the rights of human dignity and human rights," he said.
"I believe that anyone can be president of the United States of any faith," McCain said, saying he was angry his remarks were misinterpreted but "there's nothing I can do about it."
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said McCain's comments failed to recognize that Christianity is not the only faith with beliefs that support the concept of human rights.
"Sorry, Islam and other faiths have their basis in human dignity," Hooper said.
McCain's remarks also "go against the traditions of American pluralism and religious pluralism and inclusion," Hooper said.
Hooper's organization, a Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group, said it's trying to organize a group of Muslim leaders to meet with McCain. (MORE)