WASHINGTON (AFP) - – Roughly one in five Americans wrongly says President Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to two new US opinion polls out Thursday amid a furor over a planned mosque near New York's "Ground Zero."
And about 30 percent of Americans say followers of Islam should be barred from running for president or serving on the US Supreme Court, according to one of the surveys, published in Time magazine and available on Time.com.
The Time poll found 24 percent of respondents said Obama -- a Christian church-goer who has repeatedly spoken out about his faith -- is a Muslim, while 18 percent said the same in a study from the non-partisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The White House responded by underlining that Obama "is a committed Christian" and that his "faith is a part of who he is, but not a part of what the public or the media is focused on everyday."
Deputy communications director Jen Psaki said in a statement that Obama relied on his faith in dealing with challenges like the sour US economy and the Iraq war "but he doesnt wear it on his sleeve."
The polls amounted to another headache for Obama and his Democratic allies, who worry they face a rout in November elections to decide control of the US Congress and key governorships because of the sour economy.
Pew took its poll before Obama waded last week into a bitter dispute over plans for a mosque and community center roughly two blocks from the New York site of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Time conducted its survey afterwards.
Obama on Friday affirmed the right to build on religious freedom grounds, and on Saturday clarified that he was not taking a stand on the "wisdom" of doing so.
Republicans, including some possible 2012 White House hopefuls, have vowed to make Obama's support for the right to build the project, which is broadly opposed by a majority of the US public, an issue in the upcoming elections.
Pew noted the overall number of those saying Obama is a Muslim had spiked from 11 percent in March 2009 but that the view "is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers."
Still, "even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46 percent say Obama is a Christian, down from 55 percent in March 2009," said Pew.
Just 34 percent of Pew's respondents overall correctly identified him as a Christian, down from 48 percent from March 2009, and 43 percent said they did not know his religion, up from 34 percent.
Time found 47 percent of its sample labeled Obama a Christian, while 24 percent said they did not know his religion.
Pew's assessment had an error margin of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, while it was roughly three percentage points for the Time study, which found sizeable hostility to Islam nine years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Osama bin Laden's extremist Al-Qaeda Islamist network.
Forty-six percent said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence against non-believers, against 39 percent who said "about the same" and six percent who said it was less likely to do so, said Time.
And 32 percent said Muslims should be barred from running for US president, while 28 percent said they should be prohibited from serving on the US Supreme Court, and 25 percent said most US Muslims do not believe in US values.
Asked about the controversial mosque project in New York, 23 percent said it would serve as a symbol of religious tolerance, 44 percent said it would be "an insult" to the victims of 9-11 and 27 percent said it would be both.
Overall, just 26 percent supported the project, while 61 percent said it should not be built, according to Time.
The poll also found 34 percent of respondents would oppose the construction two blocks from their home of a Muslim community center and place of worship for major religions in the United States.
But 24 percent said they would oppose such a project by Mormons; 18 percent would oppose one for Jews; and 14 percent would oppose one for Catholics.
A senior White House aide, requesting anonymity, noted that 60 percent of those who said the president was a Muslim learned it from the media and charged that his "faith is often maligned and distorted by critics."