Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump proposed Monday a complete and total ban on Muslims entering the United States in response to recent terrorist attacks, drawing an immediate rebuke from nearly every quarter for trampling on the religious freedom that is the founding principle of America.
In calling for closing the border to members of the second-largest religious group in the world, Mr. Trump said the United States must get a handle on the hatred fueling Islamic terrorism.
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.
The plan was swiftly met with condemnation from Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals, Democrats and others who denounced the idea as un-American and accused him of vilifying an entire religion.
Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California Davis School of Law and one of the nation’s leading immigration law scholars, said the proposal “hearkens back to some of our darkest days in our immigration history.”
Republican contender and Ohio Gov. John Kasich called it “just more of the outrageous divisiveness that characterizes his every breath and another reason why he is entirely unsuited to lead the United States.”
Mr. Kasich is the most outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. But this time he began a pile-on as the entire field of Republican presidential candidates seized on the proposal as a possible turning point for Mr. Trump’s unconventional campaign.
“There are folks in this race who don’t care about what the law says because they’re used to being able to just fire people indiscriminately on television,” Republican candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Michael Medved’s radio show.
“That’s a ridiculous position and one that won’t even be productive,” he said of the proposed ban on Muslims.
In Washington, there was no immediate reaction from dozens of foreign embassies of Muslim-populated nations, whose diplomatic staff travel in and out of the U.S. with fluid regularity.
The possibility that Mr. Trump had gone too far was enticing for the Republican establishment, which has grown terrified that he will win the nomination and doom the party to lose not only the White House contest but also down-ticket races.
Republican Party insiders are convinced that Mr. Trump is unelectable in the general election and the best chance for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to become president.
Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee from California, said Mr. Trump is “making no sense” and would be better off talking about his plans for protecting Christians who are being persecuted in the Middle East.
“Many of these Muslims who he wants to prohibit are at war with ISIS themselves,” Mr. Steel said. “So it is just typical Trump bombast.”
Still, Mr. Trump has built his campaign on violating political correctness and has grown more popular with each outrageous comment he makes.
“Nothing so far has been the straw that has broken the camel’s back,” said Douglas Heye, a strategist who previously advised the Republican National Committee. “Trump continues to be the best thing that Hillary Clinton could hope for.”
In response to the plan, Mrs. Clinton tweeted: “This is reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive. @RealDonaldTrump, you don’t get it. This makes us less safe.”
Mr. Trump took the criticism in stride.
Speaking at a rally in South Carolina, Mr. Trump called his proposal “common sense” and read from the statement he issued.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” Mr. Trump said, sparking applause. “We have no choice. We have no choice.”
When he floated the ban, Mr. Trump cited polls that showed significant support within Muslim American communities for global jihad and the Shariah law that underpins radical Islam.
The poll by Center for Security Policy, which left-leaning groups have called Islamophobic, found that 25 percent of Muslim Americans agreed that violence against U.S. citizens was justified as part of global jihad and 51 percent agreed that they should have a choice of being governed according to Shariah.
The Muslim ban upped the ante on Mr. Trump’s calls to profile Muslims and spy on mosques in the wake of the attack by a husband-and-wife team linked to Islamic terrorism who killed 14 people at an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
It also contradicted President Obama’s plea in a speech Sunday from the Oval Office to not single out or discriminate against Muslims out of fear.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump jabbed the president for mentioning in his speech the contributions of Muslim-American sports heroes, mockingly accusing the president of “profiling.”
“Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Johnson, the immigration law scholar, called the proposed Muslim ban “mind-boggling.”
“It is totally out of keeping with the American tradition, and I think it runs afoul of any sense of religious freedom that the nation has stood for,” he said. “It hearkens back to some of our darkest days in our immigration history.”
Mr. Johnson said the proposal resembled the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and later immigration law that banned other Asians who at the time were viewed as dangerous.
“It’s the same kind of rhetoric that Donald Trump is using now,” he said.
He said the exclusion of Muslims from immigrating or visiting wouldn’t pass constitutional muster, though other measures such as heightened review of visas for people form certain countries likely would prevail in court.
The Obama administration said Mr. Trump’s plan would make America less safe by providing a recruiting tool to the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“We must not throw a net of suspicion over American Muslims and an entire religion,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at a roundtable discussion with an influential Washington-area Muslim group.
Mr. Johnson was meeting with the group as part of the administration’s effort to work closely with American Muslim organizations to counter violent extremism and radicalization when Mr. Trump announced his plan.
“We must not force American Muslims to run and hide and retreat to the shadows,” he said. “This would be counter to our homeland security efforts, and it is un-American.”
But Republican strategist Mike McKenna called Mr. Trump’s latest outrage a “brilliant” follow-up to Mr. Obama’s speech.
“Trump is calling him out,” Mr. McKenna said. “The president thinks these guys are going to be stopped by shooting adverbs at them. Trump thinks they are going to get stopped by shooting bullets at them.”
He said many Americans feel the same way as Mr. Trump but are afraid to say it.
“He correctly reads that people are afraid, and he correctly reads that they have concluded that the president is completely ineffectual in the face of this violence,” he said. “The only people who are denouncing it are people who never, ever intended to vote for the guy. In short, it is the media.”
⦁ Kelly Riddell, Tom Howell Jr. and Guy Taylor contributed to this report.