Obama jokes about Muslim rumors in first mosque visit

President Obama on Wednesday joked about persistent, false rumors that he secretly practices Islam during his first-ever visit to a U.S. mosque. 

In a speech at the Islamic Center of Baltimore, the president said the nation has a long history of defending the rights of Muslims to practice their religion, dating back to the days of the founding fathers.

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"Thomas Jefferson's opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim,” he said. “It's true, I'm in good company."

Obama has shown a greater willingness to confront sensitive social issues, such as religion and race, in his second term.

The mosque trip comes seven years into his presidency, during which he has battled rumors that he is a Muslim. Obama is a Christian and he peppered his speech with references to his faith.

The president’s trip was designed to tamp down anti-Muslim sentiment that has bubbled up in the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. 

“You’ve seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith,” Obama said. “We’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place anywhere in this country.”