Why do so many Americans question President Barack Obama's religious status and even his citizenship?
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says the answer is simple: Americans know less about President Obama than any other president in U.S. history.
"I don't know why people think what they think," Barbour, the head of the Republican Governor's Association, told USA Today. "This is a president we know less about than any other president. But I have no idea."
"I accept totally at face value that he's a Christian," Barbour said of a declaration Obama has made repeatedly. "That's good enough for me."
Barbour discounted allegations of a “conspiracy” behind the questioning of Obama’s birthplace or beliefs. USA Today’s Susan Page interviewed Barbour after recent interviews in which Obama has complained about organized efforts to smear him.
A Pew survey released this summer found that nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent of Americans who held that view in 2009.
Obama was born to a Muslim father and studied during childhood at a Muslim school in Indonesia, but says in his 20s he converted to Christianity after meeting the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a controversial Chicago pastor.
Barbour dismissed any claims that conservatives are seeking to undermine the president.
"Do I think there's a vast right-wing conspiracy?" Barbour said. "No, ma'am."
Obama recently chimed in on the controversy swirling around his religious status and birth place.
"There is a mechanism, a network of misinformation, that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly," Obama told NBC News in August.
"I'm not going to be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating out there," Obama told NBC's Brian Williams. "If I spend all my time chasing after that then I wouldn't get much done. ... I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead."
But critics note that Obama has been less than forthcoming in releasing documents relating to his private life, typical of most presidents.
Obama has never released his long form birth certificate, which would include the exact place of birth, the name of the doctor who conducted the birth procedure and other birth details, fueling theories he may have been born outside the country. Hawaii state officials have stated they reviewed the full document and said Obama was born in Hawaii. Also, a local newspaper legal notice taken out by Obama's family days after his birth confirms this.
During the 2008 campaign Obama declined to release his school records for the three universities he attended. His Columbia University thesis has disappeared from the college's archives. Many records from his days as a state legislator in Illinois have also disappeared.
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