Georgetown University’s decision to comply with a White House request to cover up the “IHS” monogram representing Jesus' name at President Obama’s speech on Wednesday is drawing fire from the Cardinal Newman Society and Georgetown students, who are charging the university with “sacrificing” its “Catholic and Jesuit identity.”
Reports surfaced today from attendees at President Obama's speech on the economy that the White House asked Georgetown University to cover up several emblems, including an IHS monogram above the president's head during his speech at the Jesuit university.
Although President Obama focused his speech on his administration’s plans to spur economic growth, some in attendance noticed that the IHS monogram—an early 3rd century abbreviation for the name of Jesus—was covered up for the speech.
CNA attempted to confirm the report with Georgetown officials, but no one available for comment before press time.
However, Julie Green Bataille, associate vice president for communications at the university, told CNSNews.com that the covering up of Jesus' name was prompted by “logistical arrangements for yesterday’s event.” According to Bataille, “Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage.”
She said the “signage and symbols” were covered up because “the pipe and drape wasn’t high enough by itself to fully cover the IHS and cross” and that it seemed more “respectful to have them covered” so that viewers wouldn’t see them “out of context.”
Patrick Reilly, the President of the Cardinal Newman Society, reacted to the report by telling CNA that Georgetown’s decision is another “outrageous example of a Catholic university sacrificing principle for prestige.”
He wondered what the White House will request next month at Notre Dame’s commencement and said, “Christians simply cannot hide our faith in a drawer to satisfy an American president who shows no respect for Catholic identity or values.”
Georgetown students were also outraged by the University’s actions.
Paul Courtney, a Catholic Georgetown student and President of the Georgetown College Republicans, was an attendee at the Wednesday speech. He called the move “disheartening” and “sad” that the University would sacrifice its “Catholic and Jesuit identity” by covering the monogram.
Courtney didn’t notice that the symbol was covered, and explained that “one of my professors pointed it out to me afterwards when we were discussing the event.”
Courtney hypothesized that the White House made the request because, “President Obama didn't want any symbols to appear in the photo that might suggest that there's any higher authority than him.”
Last year, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at Georgetown and “none of the stage was shrouded,” added Courtney.
CNA attempted to reach Georgetown’s College Democrats for comment, but they were also not available in time for publication.
Another Catholic student, Dave Gregory, who heads the Knights of Columbus council at Georgetown, said the University has covered up religious imagery for “High Holy Days and non-Catholic religious services” on the “infrequent occasion” that the services are held in Gaston Hall, the site of Obama’s speech.
Gregory told CNA that President Obama's visit was “by no means contingent upon the covering of the IHS,” saying that he strongly doubted that “Obama's staff would have canceled the event.”
Georgetown’s decision to cover up the symbol did not surprise Gregory either, who said he thought it is “a bit shameful that they did so, as Georgetown has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.”
Gregory said he believes that the White House and Georgetown’s administration are just trying to “produce excuses and rationalize their inappropriate decision,” and that he would not be surprised if there is more to the matter than is being shared with the media.