A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined. More than a year and a half into his presidency, a plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows.
A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.
The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.(Read the whole thing here)
The poll results have provoked a variety of responses. The White House has responded by emphasizing the President's Christian Faith. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham has tried to explain American's confusion about the President's religion on CNN. Rabbi Brad Hirshfield comments on the issue of fact vs. fiction. And the blog Race Wire reminds us that there are other poll numbers to keep in mind right now.
The question I think that someone needs to ask is, "What difference does it make what religion the President is?" This is important because it could shift the discussion in the direction of facing squarely and without evasion the issue of religious prejudice. Religious prejudice, like racial prejudice, is something Americans need to talk about. The Baha'i Writings make consequences of prejudice, whatever form it takes:
"Ye observe how the world is divided against itself, how many a land is red with blood and its very dust is caked with human gore...Nay, even worse, for flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been levelled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin. Fathers have lost their sons, and sons their fathers. Mothers have wept away their hearts over dead children. Children have been orphaned, women left to wander, vagrants without a home. From every aspect, humankind hath sunken low. Loud are the piercing cries of fatherless children; loud the mothers' anguished voices, reaching to the skies.
And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past -- imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 246)
The need is urgent and the opportunity awaits us. We must engage our fellow Americans in conversation about the implications of religious prejudice, particularly the anti-Muslim attitudes that have come to epitomize such prejudice. We must do what we can to stand up for religious freedom and equality for all Americans. We must reject unequivocally the notion that a person's faith should determine whether they should serve in public office, including the Presidency.