Categorized | News, US and Foreign

Controversy swirls at Georgetown over President’s speech

Posted on 26 April 2009 by Thomas Klind

On Tuesday April 14, President Barack Obama delivered an economic and general policy speech in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall.

Although the President’s economic policy is controversial, to those familiar with Gaston Hall, something else seemed slightly off. In a move that came as more or less (depending on how much you know about Georgetown University) of a shock, Georgetown University officials decided to comply with the White House request to cover up the gold IHS symbol and cross adorning the stage where the President gave his speech.

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IHS, simply translated, is the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. It has also been associated with Iesus Hominum Salvator, or Jesus savior of humanity, and with the Jesuits in the United States.

In what seems to be their official stance on the issue, Georgetown Associate Vice President Julie Green Bataille responded to multiple news agencies by saying “the White House wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they’ve done for other policy speeches. Frankly, the pipe and drape wasn’t high enough by itself to fully cover the IHS and cross above the GU seal and it seemed most respectful to have them covered so as not to be seen out of context.”
The University covered the IHS and cross symbol with a triangular piece of ply board painted black.

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The Washington Times’ Belief Blog published a response from Catholic University of America spokesperson Viktor Nakas.

Nakas said, “I can’t imagine, as the bishops’ university and the national university of the Catholic Church, that we would ever cover up our religious art or signage for any reason. Our Catholic faith is integral to our identity as an institution of higher education.”

Patrick Reilly, President of the Cardinal Newman Society, a large national Catholic organization, said, “It is such a sad commentary that Catholic universities are willingly hiding the most visible signs of their Catholic identity when hosting secular leaders.”

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Georgetown University did not cover the dozens of other religious images present in Gaston Hall, just the two directly behind the President. The black ply board remained covering the name of Jesus for over a day after the event ended.

It is yet to be seen whether or not President Obama will wear the official graduation garb at the University of Notre Dame when he receives his honorary degree. The gown has references to Mary, as well as prayers and crosses on it.

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