Rep. Keith Ellison said Wednesday that attempts to insinuate that Barack Obama is Muslim won't have any effect on the presidential candidate, arguing that Americans won't fall for such a "bigoted" appeal.
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim member of Congress, also said he has no doubt a Muslim could be elected president.
Rumors have circulated on the Internet for months that Obama, who is Christian, is Muslim, and the issue kicked up again this week with a photograph of him dressed in traditional local garments during a visit to Kenya.
The Drudge Report posted the photograph and said it was being circulated by "Clinton staffers," but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign has denied knowing anything about it.
Also, a radio talk show host warming up a crowd for GOP presidential candidate John McCain referred repeatedly to "Barack Hussein Obama" and called him a "hack, Chicago-style" politician. McCain denounced the comments.
"It's a deliberate attempt to associate him with things Islamic," Ellison said of the use of Obama's middle name.
"There has been a concerted effort to whip up fear, anxiety, bigotry against Obama based on his Muslim roots, but he is in fact a Christian, and on top of that, those people's efforts are going to fail," Ellison said. "And they won't fail because he's proven that he's really not a Muslim; they'll fail because Americans will come to the conclusion that the organizing principle of our nation is freedom of worship."
Obama's father and stepfather were Muslim, and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country — but Obama was not raised Muslim.
"Assuming that the American public is bigoted, and infused with religious bigotry against Muslims, is incorrect," Ellison said.
And he insisted that a Muslim could become president.
"Look, we elected a Catholic," Ellison said. "Mitt Romney was a viable candidate in this race. I don't think that his decline had to do with him being Mormon." Romney, a GOP candidate, dropped out of the race earlier this year.
"So I think that certainly America could elect a Muslim president," he said. "America could elect a woman president. I think we probably are going to elect a black president. And we'll all be better for it."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which fights anti-Muslim bigotry, said he agreed with Ellison.
"There clearly is a level of anti-Muslim attitude in our society, but I think it's still a minority," he said. "It's a vocal minority, but it's still a minority. The majority of Americans respect people of all faiths, and I think while taking faith into consideration, it would not be the main factor in their voting."