09/16/2015 07:35 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2015

GOP Candidates Say Jailing Of Kim Davis Is Worse Than Ahmed Mohamed's Arrest

Participants in the second-tier debate deflected a question about balancing vigilance with discrimination.

The GOP candidates sidestepped a question during Wednesday night's undercard debate about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Dallas boy who was arrested for building a clock that police assumed was a hoax bomb.

Instead, the candidates said it was far more concerning that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis had been briefly jailed for refusing to sign certificates for gay couples seeking to get married. 

"Right now, the biggest discrimination going on is against Christian business owners and individuals who believe in traditional forms of marriage," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "They are throwing this woman in jail in Kentucky. Let’s talk about that."

And so, they talked about it.

"Kim Davis, I’m not worried about her attacking me," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, "I am worried about radical Islamic terrorists who are already here planning another 9/11. We are at war, folks."

Former New York Gov. George Pataki then jumped in to make the case that Davis did deserve to be fired for refusing to implement the law. But the broadcast soon cut to a commercial break.

Heading into the debate, there was curiosity about how the candidates would address Ahmed's controversial arrest earlier in the week. The Dallas student appears to have been accused of making a bomb largely on the basis of his ethnicity. Sympathy poured in for Ahmed as the news of his arrest circulated, and President Barack Obama even invited him to the White House to participate in a science fair.

The initial question about Ahmed asked candidates how they would to strike a balance between vigilance and discrimination.

"Americans don't discriminate against anyone based on the color of their skin," Jindal said.

After moderator Jake Tapper pressed him on whether he believed there was discrimination in the U.S., the Louisiana governor backed down slightly.

"I don't think a 14-year-old should ever get arrested for bringing a clock to school,” he conceded.

Read the latest updates on the GOP debate here.

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CNN GOP Debates Sept. 16, 2015