Catholic Denial?

April 17, 2009

Georgetown University and President Obama have come under criticism for a decision to cover religious iconography in a university building where Obama gave a speech Tuesday. As one Georgetown professor pointed out on his blog, the letters IHS, symbolizing the name of Jesus Christ, were obscured when Obama spoke on the economy at the Roman Catholic university's Gaston Hall. Julie Green Bataille, spokeswoman for Georgetown, called the covering of the letters a "logistical issue" in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed. "In coordinating the logistical arrangements for the event, Georgetown honored the White House staff's request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage in order to accommodate a backdrop of American flags, consistent with other policy speeches," Bataille wrote. Patrick Deneen, chair of Hellenic studies and an associate professor of government at Georgetown, said the decision to cover the IHS symbol went far beyond simply obscuring university logos. "This is a central symbol of Christian faith," he said. "I think it’s a totally different matter than covering some kind of institutional insignia.” A White House spokesman issued a statement, saying "Decisions made about the backdrop for the speech were made to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false." Cybercast News Service published pictures illustrating the covering of the symbols. The Georgetown situation comes in the wake of continuing criticism by conservative Catholics of the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite the president to speak at commencement, citing his views on abortion and other matters.

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