Philip Maddocks: Obama accused of trying to demonize those who incorrectly believe he is Muslim

Philip Maddocks

Leading Republicans reacted negatively to a White House statement that President. Obama prays daily with a small circle of Christian pastors, calling the announcement a blatant attempt to demonize the substantial percentage of Americans who believe, incorrectly, that Mr. Obama is Muslim.  

One House Republican leader said: “The decision of the White House to single out these hardworking ill informed Americans is deeply troubling, as is the president’s decision to continue on with his polarizing agenda of trying to correct misstatements made by political foes.”

“The American people I know have certainly heard all they want to on the subject of Mr. Obama’s religion without the president piling on,” he said.

A New York Republican said that while the White House has the right — and is right — to make clear that President Obama is a Christian, doing so at this politically sensitive time needlessly offends too many people.

“President Obama is correct to do this,” the New York congressman said. “But it is insensitive and uncaring for him to hold out for ridicule the 18 percent of Americans and 31 percent of Republicans who believe he is Muslim. While the White House is justified, obligated even, to set the record straight about the president’s religious beliefs, they are abusing that right by needlessly offending many people who have already suffered so much for their other false beliefs. The right and moral thing for President Obama to have done was to acknowledge the belief of those who believe he is Muslim. Unfortunately the president caved into political correctness."

One prominent former congressman also condemned Mr. Obama’s factually correct comments.

“There is nothing surprising in the president’s well-founded and robust defense of his religion nor in his continued pandering to those who have bothered to learn what he thinks, says, and does,” he said. “What he said is true and accurate. But that is not the point. The fact is this is not about the president’s religion. It is about the belief of thousands of Americans whose peace of mind and strength of spirit depend on their conviction that the president is not what he and his birth record and dozens of ministers say he is.”

The former congressman said the White House’s attempt to correctly portray Mr. Obama as a Christian is a symbol of presidential “triumphalism” and that forcing this truth on those who believe the president is Muslim  “would be like putting the president’s former pastor, the Rev. Jermiah Wright, in the pulpit at their worship service.”

“It’s profoundly and terribly wrong,” he said.

Mr. Obama issued a statement on Monday defending the right of misinformed Americans everywhere to believe he is Muslim. The president said he “was not commenting” on “the wisdom” of that particular mischaracterization of his spiritual beliefs, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that the public, no matter how unenlightened it is about simple matters of record, should “treat everybody equally” regardless of religion.

The president was apparently seeking to address criticism that he is using his presidential platform to attack citizens who are misinformed about his Christian beliefs, a corrective measure that has aroused the ire of many.

White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to say that those who continue to believe he is not a Christian are ignoring an abundance of evidence to the contrary, or that they are an affliction on the judicious and high-minded thinking that is the pillar of a well-functioning democracy. Rather, the officials said, the president is seeking more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values.

“In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” they said while delivering their statement from the pulpit at the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., where the president had attended an Easter Sunday service this year with his family and mother-in-law Marian Robinson.

In New York, a candidate for governor issued a statement responding to Mr. Obama’s remarks, saying the president had every right to his opinion that he is a Christian.

“While I am deeply disturbed that the president’s religious beliefs could be so mischaracterized and that his spiritual thoughts have become a matter of political debate, I am also puzzled by President Obama’s unwillingness to compromise,” he said, “He appears determined to force his point of view that he is a Christian on the country even if some of the country doesn’t want to hear it. I find it distressing that even now the president is still not listening to the majority of badly informed Americans.”

Philip Maddocks can be reached at