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President Barack Obama is a Christian, but a minority of the American public keeps telling pollsters he's a Muslim.
The Pew Research Center recently reported that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. A Time magazine poll found even more -- 24 percent -- said he was a Muslim.
PolitiFact has done extensive fact-checking on Obama's faith and has debunked false claims in chain e-mails that he attended a radical Islamic school, that his political rise mirrored a biblical tale about the Antichrist, and that he took the oath for U.S. Senate on a Koran. All three earned our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.
Our fact-checking also showed clear evidence that Obama is a Christian. According to the president's memoirs and independent biographies, Obama was not raised in any particular faith. He became a Christian when he was in his 20s while working as a community organizer in Chicago. Obama said the churches there impressed him with their commitment to social justice and the hope they gave to the poor.
"It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith," Obama said in a 2006 speech. "It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."
The pastor of Trinity then was Jeremiah Wright, the minister from whom Obama distanced himself in the 2008 presidential campaign, after video of some of Wright's more controversial sermons were aired on television and the Internet. The break between the two men was over Wright's comments about American foreign policy and race relations, not tenets of Christian doctrine.
Several independent reports have documented Obama's church membership and faith life. "Along his Senate campaign trail (in 2004), Obama would never fail to carry his Christian Bible. He would place it right beside him, in the small compartment in the passenger side door of the SUV, so he could refer to it often," reported journalist David Mendell in his 2007 biography Obama: From Promise to Power.
After the falling out with Wright, Obama said he intended find a new church once the campaign was over. In office, though, Obama has not attended one church regularly. Instead, he has worshipped at various churches in the Washington, D.C., area, including the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, and St. John's Episcopal Church. He also has attended services at Camp David, the presidential retreat.
Obama regularly seeks spiritual guidance from a group of pastors and called them recently from Air Force One for a prayer session, according to an account in the Washington Post. Last week, when the Pew poll was released, presidential aides said Obama remains a practicing Christian and prays daily.
In April this year, Obama hosted an Easter prayer breakfast at the White House, and spoke of being inspired by Christ's resurrection, particularly in light of the human failings of selfishness and pride.
"It's not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption," Obama said. "But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope."
So why do so many people keep saying he's Muslim? A benign explanation is that there is genuine confusion about his religion because Obama has Muslim ancestors on his father's side and a traditionally Muslim middle name, Hussein. Another is that people who disagree with him politically and dislike the Muslim religion like to associate him with something they perceive to be negative. (Read more about these perceptions in our report, "Why do so many people think Obama is a Muslim?")
But all evidence points to the fact that Obama is a Christian. The members of the public who say he is a Muslim -- 18 percent, according to the Pew poll -- are wrong, and we rate their statement Pants on Fire!
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim, Aug. 18, 2010
Time magazine, Americans' Views on the Campaign, Religion and the Mosque Controversy, Aug. 18, 2010
PolitiFact, Obama sworn in on his Bible, Dec. 20, 2007
Barack Obama campaign, Call to Renewal Keynote Address, June 28, 2006
The Associated Press, Obama Family Attends Easter Services At Allen Chapel AME Church In Washington DC, April 4, 2010
Time magazine, No Churchgoing Christmas for the First Family, Dec. 23, 2009
The Washington Post, 19th St. Baptist's Glory: The Obamas, Jan. 19, 2009
Obama: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, 2007
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, by David Remnick, 2010
Dreams from my Father, by Barack Obama, 1995
The White House, Remarks by the President at Easter Prayer Breakfast, Aug. 6, 2010
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