President Barack Obama said that those who believe he is not a Christian do not know him, but even if he were not a Christian, there would be nothing wrong with that. Obama made the remarks in a speech in New Delhi, where he called on India to do more to safeguard religious freedom.
"In our lives, Michelle [Obama] and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. Still, as you may know, my faith has at times been questioned — by people who don't know me — or they've said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing," Obama said, according to ABC News.
"Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear."
Obama also called on Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi to pursue women's rights and religious tolerance.
"India will succeed as long as it's not splintered along religious lines," Obama said.
"Your Article 25 (of the Constitution) says that all people are 'equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person."
The president added that his wife is a model for women's rights.
"I'm surrounded by smart women," Obama said. "Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the street, or ride the bus — and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity."
Obama's comments on religious freedom come at a time when the Indian government is facing criticism from Christians for not doing enough to protect religious minorities from Hindu extremists. Christians, who are a small minority in India, have faced a rising number of attacks in recent months throughout the country, with a number of instances where churches have been torched or vandalized.
Persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern, which has highlighted a number of these attacks on Christians, said that it remains to be seen whether India will "now take heed" of Obama's words.
Other groups, such as the Catholic Secular Forum, have claimed that as many as 7,000 Christians suffered some form of persecution in 2014 alone. Open Doors meanwhile ranked India as the 21st country in the world where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.
Obama's two-day visit to India concludes on Wednesday, when he is scheduled to fly back to America.