Argument on Obama’s religion is a damaging political distraction

Bailey Ethier

Through the highs and lows of Barack Obama’s presidency, one question has constantly, and unfortunately, lurked in the background of his tenure — is the president a Muslim?

Although Obama has declared he is a Christian multiple times, a recent CNN/ORC poll found that 29 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.

These findings come at a time when Republican presidential front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been in hot water because of their comments, or lack thereof, regarding Muslims.

At a Sept. 17 rally for Trump a questioner said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.” And Trump didn’t correct the man’s claim regarding Obama’s religion.

Three days later, Carson said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” because a president should practice a faith that is “consistent with the Constitution.”

What 29 percent of Americans need to understand — Trump and Carson included — is that it doesn’t matter what religion the president is. The president’s negotiating and leadership skills are much more important than whether he practices Christianity, Islam or any other religion.

“Today, it’s not unusual to imagine a Catholic, or Jewish, president,” wrote Denise A. Spellberg, history and Middle Eastern studies professor, in a story for Time Magazine. “It’s a shame that in this religiously diverse country, Muslims seem to still inspire unconstitutional and un-American assaults on our most cherished ideal: civic equality, regardless of religion.”

Discussion of these Islamophobic statements and gossip regarding the president’s religion prevents productive and meaningful conversations about issues that actually matter. Ashley Alcantara, University Democrats communications director and Plan II and government junior, said she believes progress can be made for the country by discussing these claims. 

“It’s a good opportunity to discuss Islam and help inform people about a religion they may be less familiar with,” Alcantara said. “I think a broader understanding of beliefs can help to dispel stereotypes and create a more inclusive society.”

Instead of discussing and finding solutions and answers to climate change or our immigration issues, a significant portion of the nation is focusing on an outrageous conspiracy theory.

Let’s stop talking about the president’s religion and start talking about how we can stop another government shutdown.

Ethier is a journalism freshman from Westport, Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @baileyethier.