Can the President be Muslim?

What the Constitution Says About Religion and the White House

Obama hosts Ramadan dinner. Getty Images

With all the rumors claiming President Barack Obama is a Muslim, it's fair to ask: So what if he was?

What's wrong with having a Muslim president?

The answer is: not a thing.

The No Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes it perfectly clear that voters can elect a Muslim President of the United States or one belonging to any faith they choose, even none at all.

In fact, two Muslims are serving in the 115th Congress. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat became the first Muslim elected to Congress over a decade ago and Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, the second Muslim elected to Congress serves as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

By and large, however, American presidents have been Christians. To date, not a single Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or other non-Christian has occupied the White House.

Obama has said repeatedly that he is a Christian.

That hasn't stopped his most strident critics from raising questions about his faith and fomenting vicious innuendo by claiming falsely that Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer or that he supports the mosque near ground zero.

The only qualifications required of presidents by the Constitution are that they be natural-born citizens who are at least 35 years old and have resided in the country for at least 14 years.

There's nothing in Constitution disqualifying a Muslim president.

Whether America is ready for a Muslim president is another story.

Religious Makeup of Congress

While the percentage of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, a Pew Research Center analysis shows that the religious makeup of Congress has changed only slightly since the early 1960s. Among members of the 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians, compared to 95% in the 87th Congress from 1961 to 1962.  

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the 115th Congress, all but two identify themselves as Christians. Those two Republicans are Jewish Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee.

While 80% of the Democrats in the 115th Congress identify as Christians, there is more religious diversity among Democrats than among Republicans. The 242 Democrats in Congress include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist. Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema described herself as religiously unaffiliated and 10 members of Congress – all Democrats -- decline to state their religious affiliation.

Reflecting a nationwide trend, Congress has become much less Protestant over time. Since 1961, the percentage of Protestants in Congress has dropped from 75% in 196 to 56% in the 115th Congress.

Updated by Robert Longley