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August 19th, 2010
01:02 AM ET

Only a third of Americans say Obama is Christian; almost one in five say he's Muslim

President Obama speaking in a Washington church earlier this year.

A substantial and growing chunk of the country believes that President Obama, a self-described Christian, is Muslim, while only about a third of Americans are able to correctly identify his religion, according to a survey released Thursday.

Nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from around one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim last year, according to the survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While most of those who think Obama is Muslim are Republicans, the number of independents who believe he is Muslim has expanded significantly, from 10 percent last year to 18 percent now.

The number of Americans who express uncertainly about the president's religion, meanwhile, is much larger and has also grown, including among Obama's political base. For instance, fewer than half of Democrats and African-Americans now say that Obama is Christian.

In March 2009, 36 percent of African-Americans said they didn't know what religion Obama practices. Now, 46 percent of African-Americans say they don't know.

"You would think the longer the person is in the White House, the more the 'don't knows' would decline," said Alan Cooperman, the Pew Forum's associate director for research. "But the 'don't knows' are higher now than when he came to office."

The survey was conducted in late July and early August.

Though Obama advertised his Christianity on the campaign trail and early in his administration - including distributing pamphlets about his religion during the 2008 presidential race and inviting the Rev. Rick Warren to his inauguration - he has been less public about his faith since then.

Despite intense media speculation about which Washington church Obama would join, for example, the White House has yet to announce that he has joined any.

"We had eight years of George W. Bush, who was very public about religious debates and high profile about religious practice and that's followed by Barack Obama, who is much lower profile about religious beliefs and practices," Cooperman said.

"It could be that in the relative vacuum of information coming out of the White House about his personal religious beliefs, others step in to feel the breach," Cooperman said. "It allows others who say that 'Oh, he's really this or that' to gain some currency."

Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said Wednesday night that Obama has "expanded in a historic way the engagement of persons of faith by this administration."

The president has given six speeches on faith issues, DuBois said, and has launched the first-ever White House advisory council for the faith-based office, composed largely of religious leaders.

"A lot of these facts are not necessarily what the public and the media are focused on everyday, which is not surprising given the issues we're facing as a country: reforming health care, bringing the troops home from Iraq and the economic recovery," DuBois said in an interview.

False rumors that Obama is Muslim have dogged him since he declared his candidacy for president in 2007. Pew conducted its survey before the president's comments last week about the right of Muslims to proceed with a controversial proposal for an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a Florida evangelical who is in frequent touch with Obama, says their relationship belies the findings of the new survey.

"He is very definitely a Christian, but a lot of the things he does to work on spiritual formation are simply not public," Hunter said.

Hunter said that he is in weekly contact with the president about his spiritual life, including writing devotionals for Obama and praying with him via telephone. Hunter said he received a call from Air Force One on the president's 49th birthday earlier this month.

"Several of us (Christian pastors) prayed with him over the phone," Hunter said. "We talked about his life and what he wanted us to pray for and it was at his initiative."

Earlier, when the president learned Hunter's grandchild had been stricken with cancer, the Florida preacher said he received a call from the White House.

"He called and told me that he and Michelle were praying for us," Hunter said, referring to the first lady. "I explained that this was an aggressive form of cancer and he pastored me, saying the Lord would be with us through this and that we should trust in God. It was a real reversal of roles."

But Hunter said the administration may want to reconsider its messaging on religion in light of the Pew poll.

"It may be time for them (the White House) to be a little more public about what the president does to be an active Christian," he said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Politics • Polls

soundoff (1,651 Responses)
  1. IsrJablonski

    So what this article is saying is effectively, one in five Americans is a moron?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  2. Roger5462

    Crazy! 😥

    August 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  3. Sharon

    ABC–Charlie Gibson–interviewing Obama about his religious beliefs-Obama said: "Christian/Muslim! Then after being elected the first few months Obama traveled abroad to the G-20 Summit–where he apologized for all Americans their actions–their arrogance–and the entire attitudes of every American!

    From the G-20 (which was held in Great Britian) Obama traveled over into Egypt where he addressed the crowd of Muslims–on LIVE TV Arabic language–Obama said: I know how you feel–I know what you have been through-your belief is one of Muslims–and I am one of them!

    The difference between Christian and Musli beliefs: Christians believe Jesus was the last Prophet–Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad was the last Prophet! Muslims accept Jesus as a Prophet–had a mother by the name of Mary===Christians believe Jesus was conceived by the Spirit into the womb of Mary–Muslims believe Mary was the mother of Jesus–However, they deny the birth of Jesus as a (DIETY birth–meaning the Spirit entered into Mary) the Muslims believe Jesus DID not have a FATHER–NOR DID ADAM have a Father!

    There are distinct differences–but on that interview with Charlie Gibson–Obama tied the two together-I am a Christian Muslim! One can only go by what Obama has said Himself–to the Arabic world–you are Muslims–and I am one of you!

    August 19, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  4. jewishmother

    nogod wrote: "Organized religion has outgrown its usefulness."
    IamMyVoice fired back: "Every day Faith produces miracles. I feel sorry for you... Deciding not to steal or murder, lie or cheat... What is so bad about all this? And I assure you I am quite educated: 4 DEGREES, not just 3rd grade!."

    Religion IS nonsense. IamMyVoice, who poses as the perfect Christian, is a liar... doesn't have 4 degrees... I can tell by use of words. Why are religious people so prone to lie? Is it because the Bible's lies put them in this looloo zone?... I know a crackhead who claims he can "turn invisible" when he is smoking crack and the police arrives.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  5. SickandTired

    And in a more recent poll 4 out of 5 think he is a complete retard...

    August 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  6. Tmoney

    what ever happened to separation of church and state what dose this matter. Muslim,Catholic,Jewish, atheist. Who cares he is not in office to preach the gospels or speak on the Torah or translate the Koran. Jeeesssss Report something of substance CNN.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Frank

    That's incredible. 1 out 5 Americans belong in an insane asylum. It's no wonder we are becoming known as the armpit of the world. Thank you Rupert Murdoch, your rabid, frothing at-the-mouth Foxhounds have done what no one in the world has been able to do ..... you've made us the laughing stock of the world.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  8. Punctus

    So... does that mean 4 out of 5 Americans are NOT morons?

    August 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  9. IamMyVoice

    nogod said:
    "Organized religion has outgrown its usefulness. Jesus was not divine. It's sad that so many people base so much of their lives on the best guesses of people who lived two thousand years ago – people who had the equivalent of a 3rd grade education, at best."

    You do not have to agree, nogod – but do not condemn others for their choices. And for the record ... FAITH IS NOT A GUESS ... IT IS A BELIEF. Faith is a living energy of spirit all around us, and every day Faith produces miracles. I feel sorry for you ... you probably think that when you die, there is nothing left. It's all just over? I am very sad for you.

    And what do "so many people" base their lives on? Kindness? Trying to see the best in everybody? Honesty and truth? Generosity of worldly goods and spirit? Deciding not to steal or murder, lie or cheat? Loving you, even as you may hate them? What is so bad about all this? And I assure you I am quite educated: 4 DEGREES, not just 3rd grade!

    Please fight within yourself to be tolerant of others without ridicule. Live and let live. Each person’s life will be judged on its own merit, and by their contributions and accomplishments.
    Please keep your mind and your heart open. It is possible that “they” are right and you are wrong. Consider the consequences.

    I wish you the very best in all things. And in your own time, I wish you FAITH in something much greater and beyond yourself.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  10. jewishmother

    American media seem to be itching for attacks against American Muslims. The last time media whipped people into a racist frenzy like this, we got the rwanda genocide.

    Also, Obama could kiss a second term goodbye for not kissing zionist aass enough. The media – controlled by Tel Aviv – has decided to do away with the Obama administration. They want a George Bush or McCain-like idiot in the White House who will send even more money and weapons to Israel and support all Israeli aggressions, no questions asked.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  11. vanilla goriall

    seems to me that all most everyone is missing the real point here – Obama has really done nothing to show us that he is a Muslim or a Christian. He doesn't do the PC thing in DC and attend church services in a highly visible manner
    there are somethings he has done that could lead one to beleive that he leans towards Islam – like during his visits to the ME not taking his wife into countries that have Sharia law – his bowing to the Saudi King – and the list goes on........
    the "chuch" he was affliliated in Chicago is more of a cult then a branch of Christianity
    the rest of the crowd he got his education from are avowed socialists and many of them are Muslim – hardcore anti-Christian, anti-American Muslims do the basic research !!
    and there is a haunting question that needs to be answered why hasn't Obama drawn a line between radical Islam and mainstream Islam – he needs to go beyond just saying "we are not at war with Islam – but quess what – there are pasrts of Islam that are at war with usl
    all of waht I am saying can be discounted by anyone – just be open minded and do some basic research
    check out the foriegn press – most of our allies beleive that he is Muslim
    he may not be Muslim – but he is cdertainly not the president we need at this point in history he is clueless – and may has good intentions but his actions for making "changing" have strange ties to basic Islamic principles

    August 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  12. GoBamaFan

    "Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do."
    God bless our righteous President.
    And, please spew those lying Republicans out of your mouth, so that loyal Americans know they don't speak for you!
    Amen.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  13. IamMyVoice

    nogod said:
    "Organized religion has outgrown its usefulness. Jesus was not divine. It's sad that so many people base so much of their lives on the best guesses of people who lived two thousand years ago – people who had the equivalent of a 3rd grade education, at best."

    You do not have to agree, nogod – but do not condemn others for their choices. And for the record ... FAITH IS NOT A GUESS ... IT IS A BELIEF. Faith is a living energy of spirit all around us, and every day Faith produces miracles. I feel sorry for you ... you probably think that when you die, there is nothing left. It's all just over? I am very sad for you.

    And what do "so many people" base their lives on? Kindness? Trying to see the best in everybody? Honesty and truth? Generosity of worldly goods and spirit? Deciding not to steal or murder, lie or cheat? Loving you, even as you may hate them? What is so bad about all this? And I assure you I am quite educated: 4 DEGREES, not just 3rd grade!.

    Please fight within yourself to be tolerant of others without ridicule. Live and let live. Each person's life will be judged on its own merit, and by their contributions and accomplishments.
    Please keep your mind and your heart open. It is possible that "they" are right, and you are wrong. Consider the consequences.
    I wish you the very best in all things. And in your own time, I wish you FAITH in something much greater and beyond yourself.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  14. dg

    NYTimes: As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.
    His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is “irtidad” or “ridda,” usually translated from the Arabic as “apostasy,” but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victim’s family may choose to forgive).

    August 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  15. Phillip

    Wow. What a waste of space. Who cares what religion he is? Nevermind, we know who. Those most religiously radical people in this country-Republicans. Ignorance is bliss.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  16. John

    Why do all you liberal jerks say everyone that disagrees with Obama is a racist? Stop making excuses for Obama's poor job proformance. And stop making everything into a race issue. That is just not the case! Color does not matter.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  17. American1959

    The poll is misleading. The far right has been taught to say he is muslim just to keep the fake controversy going.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  18. Jorge

    wzrd, I learned a long time ago that loving a country too much was like falling in love with that quirky, uncontrollable girl with the crazy relatives who would get you in trouble if you got too close to them, best to just go out with her for fun, but not to get too involved and not to marry her, the U.S. is anything BUT what the constitution and historic orators called it to be, I was born here, yet spent my adult youth overseas, where I studied and did MUCH better than I would have in the Hell's Kitchen district of NYC where I was born 51 years ago. I have no bad feelings about the U.S. though, so much so that I've returned to live a middle-aged taxpayer's life just to give my daughters a taste of the American Experience. If they like it they can stay, if they don't, well let's say that I can pull tent and go back to the land of Salsa music and palm trees for an early retirement, LOL...

    August 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  19. joe

    Imagine no religion... It's easy if you try

    August 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  20. jn555

    Still debating religion? Still criticizing liberal cities that produce the technologies and cures for disease that you ungratefully take advantage of? You are online, therefore you are taking advantage of a liberal produced medium. Smart phone? Wasn't developed in the mid-west or south. When you have your own robot, you can thank MIT, and all the educated people who advance your lifestyle while you continue to tell them they are condemned.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.