A Christian? A Muslim? and Atheist? So What?


David Rosman, Columbia, MO

(August 19, 2010)

(On August 18, the Columbia Missourian published an opinion column, “Proposed mosque raises the question: Are we a nation of intolerance?” This is a follow-up to that article.)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Politics issued its report concerning American religious beliefs and perceptions. The crux of this study, and what may be center stage for Sunday’s talking-head shows, is that almost 20 percent of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, an increase of more than 50 percent since March 2010. Another 43 percent do not know the president’s religion.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those who question Obama’s religious affiliation are those who oppose the president’s political agenda. What is surprising is that his supporters are increasingly questioning his religious affiliation.

Pew’s survey confirmed what many already know; that “those who say [Obama] is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama’s religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.”

As to the question of the influence of religion to Obama’s decision-making process, a large percentage state that Obama is “less influenced by religion compared with George W. Bush.” Almost one-half of those responding also believe that the president “relies on his religious beliefs the right amount when making policy decisions.”

On August 13, during the White House celebratory dinner in recognition of Ramadan, the president talked about the building of an Islamic civic center planned in Lower Manhattan, New York City in terms of First Amendment’s “Establishment,” “Free Exercise” and “Free Expression” clauses concerning the Cordoba Initiative. The speech was not an influence for Pew’s July 2010 survey, published August 18. It did, however, bring harsh criticism from his opponents.

Obama said, “As a citizen and as President, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

The president emphasized in this presentation that the deepest principle of the American government and people is that all faiths are welcomed in and to this country. There was no mention of his personal faith or his personal opinion as to the building of the civic center two blocks away from the World Trade Center.

According to an August 16 and 17 Time/CNN poll, the number of those who believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim rose from 18 to 24 percent. The same poll showed that 46 percent of Americans believe that those of the Muslim faith are more likely to “to encourage violence against nonbelievers.”

I had a conversation with Muhammad Siddique, the CEO of the American Pakistan Chamber of Commerce (officially opening this fall) concerning issue of religious misconceptions. His love for this country is not questioned as a naturalized citizen. He came to the United States voluntarily, at the invitation of his employer, and stayed. (Unlike those who are born here; we had no choice.) In his words, “less that 0.01 percent of Muslims hold negative feelings towards Americans, yet all Muslims are targeted as potential terrorists in this country.” It is not that he is an American of Pakistan descent, or his neighbors may be from Jordan or Indonesia, but the assumption of religious belief that targets him and others as possible threats to America.

Why do we target all Muslims for the acts of a few? Why is religion so important to the American psyche? Is it because the Christians fear that their majority is being threatened? As one correspondent, a 19-year old Christian immigrant from Myanmar now living in San Francisco with her family, wrote, “I discussed with my dad about the issue of building and Islamic civic center and mosque three blocks from the World Trade Center. He mentioned that it is not good for the American people because some people will change their religion.” Will we, because of a new building?

In a related column, I stated that those who vehemently opposed the building of the civic center only because it represents Islam are unpatriotic. In response, another reader stated, “I don’t think that they are unpatriotic, I think that they love their country and want what is best for it, and in many cases would be willing to die for it, but again, can’t clearly see what “enemy” to fight.” His comparison to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was his proof and he is right.

Article VI, Clause 2 declares, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

Further, Clause 3 states, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) understands that the Constitution takes precedent over hurt feelings and religious disagreements. So much so, that he is refusing to speak to, either in person or by video, at a planned protest on September 11, 2010 sponsored by the “Stop Islamization of America and Freedom Defense Initiative.”

So what if President Obama is a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew, or an atheist? What matter does it make concerning his ability to lead and govern? We have had elected officials representing every faith, including atheists, deists, Wiccans and others, successfully leading our citizens and government. We have had officials of every faith who have not been so successful, even villainess, using deceit and trickery to gain financial, political or personal gain.

I do not have any answers, only a question: Though the issue of religion in politics predates the signing of the Constitution, why has it become a forefront issue today?

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and book reviews at New York Journal of Books.com.

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About David Rosman

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and NYJournalofBooks.com.
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7 Responses to A Christian? A Muslim? and Atheist? So What?

  1. zorach says:

    Religion is of paramount importance when it comes to elected officials. Even in our country with constitutionally-protected religious freedom and separation of church and state, it’s still an issue.

    Why? Because religion is all-encompassing…it’s the very core of a person’s beliefs, their moral compass. Personally, I always consider a person’s religion when voting.

    That said, I also want to point out that religion is an inherently personal and to some degree, very private matter. For the most part, what goes on inside a person’s head is known only to themselves…and what that person professes outwardly is another story. Does it really give you that much information about a person’s “religion” when that person tells you that they identify as “Christian”, “Muslim” or “Atheist”?

    And what is more important, the way they label themselves, or the way their internal belief system (which is hidden from everyone but themselves and God) plays out in the world? I think that a person’s belief system shows in their actions, words, how they treat others, the decisions they make. That is how I look at anyone’s religion–not just a political candidate’s.

    I agree with your comments that the people who incorrectly believe that Obama is a Muslim are those who disapprove of him. I also agree that America has been unfairly and wrongly generalizing about all Muslims because of the act of a small group of violent extremists. I also called people out on this in my recent post about the (in my opinion misnamed) “ground zero mosque”. But I don’t necessarily agree with your end conclusion, that we should remove religion from the political debate.

    Rather, I think we need to start looking deeper than just labels when it comes to the question of religion, and not just in politics, but across the board. I suspect you may agree with that conclusion when I word it that way! =)

    • InkandVoice says:

      Good article Alex. You did something a number of writers forget to do – give proper citations of their sources.

      • zorach says:

        Thanks…give Wikipedia credit for that. I’m an editor there and I’m used to having anything and everything butchered when I don’t give citations–which I think is the way it should be!

        =)

  2. Joel Whitaker says:

    The problem with Obama’s mosque comments was that he forgot that he is President, not a law professor.

    Had he said what he said and added: “I call upon Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to extend the same freedom of worship to their citizens that we extend to our citizens, and to allow Christians and Jews and others to build their own houses of worship,” he would have been fine.

    That would have been acting Presidential — trying to advance American interests and values at every opportunity. It would also have been good politics in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian.

    But he didn’t, and that leaves him open.

    • InkandVoice says:

      Where in our Constitution or laws does it say that the United States must demand that other countries change their internal laws before we follow our own?

      • Dan C says:

        The implied intent is that “All Men Are Created Equal”, and as such, we should do what we can to ensure that our actions don’t take away rights from other people that we say we guarantee within our borders. Rather than demanding that other countries extend freedom to their citizens, we should stop doing business with them if their citizens don’t enjoy individual rights. If we have corporations that move factories to Mexico, we should require those corporations to pay the same wages and benefits enjoyed in this country. It’s bad enough to buy oil from terrorist-supporting countries or oppressive regimes, but when we actually send our own companies around the world to support them with our technology, then we are no longer the country we say we are in the constitution.

  3. mode20100 says:

    A+ would read again

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