By Kathleen Gilbert and John-Henry Westen

ANKARA, Turkey, April 8, 2009 ( – Speaking to a Turkish press conference Monday as part of a tour to boost U.S. relations with Muslim countries, President Obama sparked controversy by dismissing the notion that America considers itself Christian in nature – unlike 62% of Americans in a recent Newsweek survey.

“Although … we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation,” said Obama. “We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

The statement recalled previous remarks to the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2007, when Obama affirmed that “whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation.”

The Internet immediately buzzed with feedback and reflection on the President’s statements. Just prior to the press conference, Newsweek had stirred the waters with an article entitled “The End of Christian America,” revealing 2009 American Religious Identification Survey data showing a decline in religious values in the U.S. In that survey, 62 percent of respondents said they considered the U.S. a Christian nation.

Conservative leaders questioned Obama’s assessment of American self-identity, citing the U.S. Founding Fathers and presidents throughout the country’s history who affirmed the country’s Christian foundation.

“I think he [Obama] was using the editorial ‘we’ there. I don’t know who he’s talking to,” remarked Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College and professor of history, in an interview with (LSN) today on the issue.

While it is clear America was not instituted as an explicitly Christian nation, said O’Donnell, “it’s an inconvertible fact of history that the overwhelming population of people who were involved in the drafting of the constitution … came out of the tradition of Western Christian civilization.”

“I think there’s a strong body of Jews, Christians, certainly Evangelicals that would find such a statement to be very offensive,” he said.

“With the greatest respect for the office of the presidency, many of us are both frightened and befuddled by this combo of bowing to the waist to the king of Saudi Arabia, and then declaring that this is not a Christian nation,” remarked Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the Special Emissary to Israel for The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada and The Rabbinical Alliance of America, in an interview with LSN today.

“I would say that most of us understand that this is a – certainly, certainly was at the founding, and for hundreds of years, was a de facto Christian nation,” said Levin.

“What is the idea that binds us together?” he asked. “Respect for life and family values, respect for religious values that derive from a God who gave us Holy Writ. If Obama wants to discuss theology, then he should answer some more questions on this subject, because he is scaring a lot of people.”