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Special Report

President Obama's Public Show of Faith

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 3, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My Christian faith has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years. All the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time. We are reminded ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama at the prayer breakfast this morning. He has been speaking out more lately about his faith. His family is also attending church more frequently. This past summer, the Pew Research Center asked this simple question, in a poll -- what is President Obama's religion? And 34 percent of the participants said "Christian," 18 percent said "Muslim," 43 percent said "don't know."

We're back with the panel. Charles, your thoughts on the president's speech today, his recent actions as well.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: When he says what matters not is what other people say about us, color me skeptical. Not skeptical about the sincerity of his religion, but skeptical about the implication that there is no connection whatsoever between his late and recent ostentatious shows of religiosity on the one hand on the other hand the polls that show only a third of Americans believe he is a Christian. Clearly he is acting as a politician. I don't begrudge him that. He wants to counter a false impression. But I find it somewhat distasteful that he always does this. Whenever he does something for obvious political reasons he pretends that it's not and he always argues that the opposition is reacting to elections or partisan politics but he never does. He always rises above it. And this is another example of that. The other part I find slightly distasteful is not particularly him, but presidents starting with Jimmy Carter including his predecessor George Bush and others, who wear religion on their sleeve. I think religion is a private issue and I think there is something somewhat contradictory about publicly proclaiming what private religiosity.

BAIER: Nia, for those who believe it's good, it's OK to talk openly for a leader about their religion, many of those people are saying where was this President Obama the first two years before that election loss?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: Right. There is a lot of scrutiny given to the fact that he didn't go to church much, he spent a lot of time golfing on Sunday mornings. The folks I talked to at the White House said this was a speech he thought a great deal about. He wanted to take on some of the criticism and he worked late in to the night on this speech and he very much wanted to give a window in his faith in the White House and the evolution of his faith over the last years.

Democratic strategists I've talked to said they want to see the president do this more and it dovetails with what Charles is saying about this and casting this as a political move in some ways. The folks in the White House I talked to said he'll likely talk more about his faith at opportunities he can. And I remember in the campaign he very much was in church pretty regularly on Sunday when he was traveling around the country. So again, we're ramping up to campaign season and this might be something that we'll see more. But certainly they are concerned about those polls. Ya know, elections are often referendums on people on culture. And there is a sense, I think, among some Americans that this is a distant and different president. And when they see a president who is so openly talking about his faith and his church-going habits and prayer that it certainly could do a lot to close the gap.

BAIER: This has been a big evolution though, Steve. I mean --

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Ya know I actually didn't agree with Charles point. I'm not sure it's as big an evolution as we are suggesting it is. After the Pew poll came out this summer, I expected that he would be going to church every day, he'd carrying the bible to and from, ya know, Marine One. We'd be seeing this show in a much greater way than we have been seeing it. And I think he has gone to some events, they've highlighted the fact he has gone to church a few times. But the guy was at a prayer breakfast today and I fully expect him to talk about his faith. And on Charles' second point I don't have a problem with him. I agree that religion can be a private matter, but if a public official wants to talk about religion -- if it's what drives his thinking, or his philosophy or his service, his theory of public service, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with a public official who wants to talk about it and talk about it publicly.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I remember the prophet saying that god is not terribly pleased by the public shows of religiosity, in that case, it was in public sacrifices. It was about what is in the heart.

This is a personal thing. I'm not saying that there is anything principled about this. I just think religion is an inner issue. I'm somewhat suspicious of its use as a political instrument. And clearly, I mean all you're saying here he has been subtle about his show of religiosity. He's always rather subtle in his political moves. He hasn't been crude about it. But obviously I think it's political. And when he claims that he doesn't really care about what other people are thinking it is so obviously not so, it's grating.

BAIER: And for the liberals who had a real problem with how George W. Bush talked about his religion, how do you think this sits with that group?

HAYES: Well I'm sure they don't like it, and the more he talks about it the less they will like it I think.

BAIER: Last word, Nia. Will we see more of this?

HENDERSON: I think possibly so. We'll see him talking about his faith a little bit more. Maybe not necessarily going to church but using it as a way to connect with ordinary Americans I suspect.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for what may be an opportunity for world leaders under fire.

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