Opinion: Obama White House ordered coverup of religious symbols for Georgetown speech

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Surprising word today that President Barack Obamas White House asked Georgetown University to cover all religious symbols at the scene of the president’s economic speech at the Roman Catholic institution Wednesday.

And the prestigious Jesuit university agreed.

The decision, unnoticed at the time, seems likely to add further fuel to the ongoing controversy over Obama’s upcoming graduation speech at the University of Notre Dame, where the Jesuit Indiana campus is plastered with numerous religious symbols.


This includes a mosaic of Jesus Christ covering the entire 14-story southern wall of the Hesburgh Library next door to the speech site in the Joyce Center, primarily used for athletic-related events such as basketball, hockey and raucous pre-game pep rallies. (See photo below.)

An online petition asking Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to Obama has gathered several hundred thousand signatures.

An American cardinal, Texas’ Daniel DiNardo, has also expressed strong displeasure with the Catholic institution so prominently hosting a ‘public figure who has been candid on his pro-abortion views.’

And the local Indiana bishop says he will boycott the May 17 ceremonies.

Notre Dame officials have adamantly said the invitation will stand despite the growing protests, including threats by alumni and others to withhold financial support.

According to a Georgetown spokeswoman, Julie Green Bataille:

‘In coordinating the logistical arrangements for yesterday’s event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage.’


‘The White House,’ she added, ‘wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they’ve done for other policy speeches.’

Turns out, the usual movable drapery barriers were not tall enough to hide the cross and IHS emblem, a traditional Catholic abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. So the school agreed to cloak the entire wall structure with the religious symbols. (See photos) Our colleague Mark Silva has more details here.

The Democratic White House explained the move as a desire to keep the backdrop for presidential speeches consistent and not distracting to the audience. The president, who has yet to select a local parish for his family in Washington, has described his religion as ‘Christian.’

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Bloomberg News (Obama speaking in Gaston Hall--note dark shape behind his head); middle (the religious symbols before being covered up for the president’s speech); University of Notre Dame - below (Hesburgh Library next door to the site of Obama’s planned graduation speech).