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President Obama Praying
By David Jackson, USA TODAY

 The survey “shows a general uncertainty and confusion about the president’s religion,” said Alan Cooperman, associate director of research with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.


The survey of 3,003 adults was taken July 21-Aug. 5, before Obama endorsed a Muslim group’s right to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Those comments, made last weekend, added to the firestorm over the location of the mosque.


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On Wednesday, Obama said at an event in Ohio that he has “no regrets” about his comments.


Responses in the poll tended to fall along ideological lines, Pew found. About one-third of self-described conservative Republicans said they believe Obama is a Muslim.


“Those who say he 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,” said a Pew report about the poll. Pew found that “even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian.”


Obama has spoken frequently about his Christian faith, including at the annual National Prayer Breakfasts and at a White House event celebrating Easter this year with Christian leaders. He receives a daily devotional prayer sent to his BlackBerry device.


As a candidate, Obama participated in a forum led by prominent Christian pastor Rick Warren, in which he said his “starting point” is “Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that I am redeemed through him.”


Cooperman said one possible reason for confusion over Obama’s religion is that people may not perceive the president as being as forthcoming about the subject compared with President George W. Bush. The Pew survey, however, showed that 48% say Obama relies on his religious beliefs the “right amount” when making policy decisions, compared with 53% for Bush.


Cooperman said he is glad the survey was done before Obama weighed in on the New York mosque because controversies can cause “temporary blips in public opinion.”


Obama said Friday, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else,” which includes building “a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”


The next day, he sought to clarify his remarks: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”