WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- A growing number of Americans say they believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim while fewer say he is a Christian, a survey indicated.
The White House responded by pointing out the president is a Christian and "his faith is very important to him."
A national survey by the Pew Research Center, released Thursday, indicated nearly one in five Americans -- 18 percent -- said they believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. Thirty-four percent said Obama is a Christian, way down from 48 percent in 2009 while 43 percent said they don't know Obama's religious affiliation.
White House spokesman Bill Burton, asked about the survey during a session with reporters Thursday, said Obama "is obviously -- is Christian. He prays every day. He communicates with his religious adviser every single day. There's a group of pastors that he takes counsel from on a regular basis. And his faith is very important to him, but it's not something that is a topic of conversation every single day."
Burton said Obama's first priority "isn't making sure that Americans know what a devout Christian he is, it's making sure that we're getting the economy on track and we're creating jobs in this country."
The survey was completed before Obama's Aug. 13 observation that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," including 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" -- a reference to the proposed construction of a mosque near Ground Zero of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. About a third of conservative Republicans said Obama is a Muslim, as did 30 percent of those who disapprove of Obama's job performance. But among Democrats, 46 percent say Obama is a Christian, down from 55 percent in March 2009.
The survey found 52 percent said churches should butt out of politics while 43 percent indicated religious groups should express their views on social and political questions. Pew said the results were largely unchanged from 2008.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted with 3,003 adults July 21-Aug. 5. The margin of error for the total sample is 2.5 percentage points.