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Monday, January 21, 2008

A Question of Faith

Barack Obama is stepping up his effort to correct the misconception that he's a Muslim now that the presidential campaign has hit the Bible Belt.

At a rally to kick off a weeklong campaign for the South Carolina primary, Obama tried to set the record straight from an attack circulating widely on the Internet that is designed to play into prejudices against Muslims and fears of terrorism.

"I've been to the same church - the same Christian church - for almost 20 years," Obama said, stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply. "I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. So if you get some silly e-mail ... send it back to whoever sent it and tell them this is all crazy. Educate."Obama is referring to a debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet that suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots and may be a terrorist in disguise. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the pledge.





There are some truths in the e-mail's details. Obama's middle name is Hussein. His father and stepfather were Muslim. And he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. But he attended secular and Catholic schools, not a radical madrassa.His campaign has been pushing back against the false rumors all year. His aides decried an incorrect news report that Obama was educated in a Muslim madrassa and a section of his Web site is devoted to correct that and other false rumors circulating on the Internet.

But they are stepping up the effort now that the campaign has hit South Carolina and soon turns to other southern states where religion is so important to voters. The campaign distributed an open letter from seven Jewish senators this weekend condemning the attacks; aides are planning an event this week to respond directly to the e-mails; and campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama's Christian faith. Obama adviser Steve Hildebrand said the campaign has organized "truth squads" made up of South Carolina supporters ready to defend Obama's record from any attacks made by the Clintons this week.

One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words "COMMITTED CHRISTIAN" in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president "guided by his Christian faith" and includes a quote from him saying, "I believe in the power of prayer."A second piece, which like the first doesn't mention the Muslim rumor, includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama "felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life."

Obama site responding to Internet rumors about his faith.


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