[I changed the title of the post. A bit more provocative? Yes, but also accurate.]
Inside Higher Ed has a short take on some hoopla about an Obama speech at a Catholic educational instution. No, this is not about his speaking at Notre Dame’s graduation, rather it is about a policy speech he gave at Georgetown University which is a Jesuit school.
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.”
I was on the fence about whether this was just a typical example of a media staff control the image of a venue (as the White House staff insisted) or a concerted effort to remove particularly Christian symbols. I was until I saw the photos.
As you can see in the photo on the left, someone had to get up on a ladder or some such and go to great lengths to obscure the IHS and cross above the podium. I certainly understand that the President of the United States is and should function independant of any religious traditions (even if, perhaps, he has very strong personal convictions) but if the President has gone to a specific institution to make a speech then why hide that you are at that institution? We did they even bother to cover up the symbols of the university let alone symbols of Christ? It wouldn’t have seemed odd or inappopriate to me to have the blue backdrop as they did, that is to be expected, too much behind the speaker can be distracting, but someone went to great lengths to cover up the IHS. The White House (and this one isn’t any better/worse so far than every other) should have either chosen a different location or left it alone.