It's easy to sympathize with President Obama over the drumbeat of misrepresentations of his religion, place of birth and even the validity of his Social Security number. But in protesting too much that he is a Christian — and one, moreover, who prays daily — the White House may be encouraging the impression that there is a religious test for the presidency and that a Muslim would fail it.
Such defensiveness is unedifying in the context of a religiously pluralist society. Also, like the irrational opposition to the construction of an Islamic community center in New York City, it could confirm suspicions in the Muslim world that this country is hostile to Islam.
The White House insisted on Obama's Christian bona fides after last week's release of a Pew Research Center poll showing that 18% of respondents thought he was a Muslim, compared with 11% who expressed that belief in March 2009. The poll suggested that 34% of Americans believe the president is a Christian, down from 48% who said so last year. The poll was taken before the president expressed his support for the right of Muslims to erect the community center, which would include a room for prayer, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attack. In a Time magazine poll conducted after Obama's remarks, 24% of respondents said they thought the president was a Muslim and 47% that he was a Christian.