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Will Head Covering Issue Keep Obama From Golden Temple?

A Sikh devotee pays obeisance as he takes a dip in the holy pond on the birth anniversary of the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, at Golden Temple, Sikh's holiest shrine in Amritsar, India, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010. AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

A New York Times story out yesterday suggested that President Obama will avoid the Golden Temple while visiting India early next month for a unique reason: Concern that images of Mr. Obama wearing the head covering required by Sikh tradition while visiting would further the erroneous belief that he is Muslim.

Asked about the story today, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not directly address its central claim. He said the schedule for the trip was not yet finalized and that decisions about where to go are made in consultation with the host country.

"Look it's a big country and we'd love to spend a lot more than the three allotted days that we have in India," Gibbs said, according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. He added: "We pick where we want to go on trips based on what we hope to accomplish."

The gold-plated Golden Temple is one of India's top tourist attractions. While it is a Sikh, not Muslim, monument, many Americans do not know the difference between the two religions. As the Times notes, Sikh men wear turbans and are expected to cover their heads when they enter temples. While baseball caps are frowned up, "most non-Sikh visitors tie on kerchiefs sold by vendors outside the temple," according to the newspaper.

An August poll found nearly one in five Americans believe the president is Muslim, and photographs of the president in Muslim dress, some of them doctored, appear on some websites popular with the president's critics.

Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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