When President Barack Obama spoke at Georgetown University on April 14, the White House requested that all religious symbols and signage that might appear as a backdrop to where the president was to speak be covered up. The university, founded and still staffed by Jesuit clerics, agreed to to the request. The monogram traditionally associated with Jesus Christ “IHS" was covered with dark plywood. This was in an area directly behind where President Obama spoke. However, the monogram was visible elsewhere in Gaston Hall where the prominent Catholic institution hosted him. A spokesperson confirmed that the White House had requested that all university signange and symbols behind the stage where the president spoke where to be covered.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, opined “The cowardice of Georgetown to stand fast on principle tells us more than we need to know about what is going on there, but the bigger story is the audacity of the Obama administration to ask a religious school to neuter itself before the president speaks there. No bishop who might speak at the White House would ever request that a crucifix be displayed behind him. Moreover, the same church and state fanatics who go nuts every time a polling place is set up in the basement of a Catholic school have been noticeably silent over this incident.
“Obama will be speaking at Notre Dame, and receiving an honorary award, on May 17. Will his advance team ask Notre Dame to scrub the campus clean of religious symbols? Or just the ones that might appear behind the podium? Obama is in enough trouble with Catholics—over his pro-abortion executive orders and appointees, his position on embryonic stem cell research and his war on the conscience rights of healthcare workers—that it seems almost suicidal for his administration to push the envelope one more time. This is getting old fast.”
American flags and presidential seals where evident, of course, for the speech in which the president spoke on his hopes and plans for the nation's economy. Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Institute of theology at Georgetown was quoted as saying that he did not think that the White House's request was "motivated by theology, but by communications strategy." However, a spokesman for the Catholic University of America - which is controlled directly by the Catholic bishops - expressed dismay. Victor Nakas of CUA said he could not think of a reason why a Catholic institution "would ever cover up our religious art of signange for any reason."
In May, President Obama will speak at the commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. That university's president, Rev. John Jenkins, has come under fire from alumni for inviting a president so expressly in favor of abortion rights and to afford him an honorary degree from an ostensibly Catholic institution that frowns on abortion.