President Barack Obama’s address last week in Gaston Hall elicited national outrage in the wider Catholic community when it was revealed that Georgetown covered a Christian symbol, the letters IHS, directly behind the President’s podium.
According to Government Professor Fr. James Schall, the Obama Administration’s request was reflective of a new approach on the issue of Church-State relations.
“[This is] not the separation of church and state, but the establishment of a new vision in which the only thing allowed to be visible is the state,” Schall wrote in a column for an online magazine, The Catholic Thing.
At the same time, Schall noted, the President’s speech included a direct biblical reference to the Sermon on the Mount.
Georgetown student and Knights of Columbus member David Gregory (COL ’10) suggested that the inflammatory situation was fueled by the outrage over President Obama’s planned commencement speech at Notre Dame and characterized the response as an “overreaction.” Gregory was critical, however, of the University’s decision.
“Gaston Hall should be left alone in all its rich imagery, which is often overlooked and underappreciated,” Gregory said.
According to University spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille, the IHS symbol appears twenty-five other times in the room and crosses are visible above the 20 windows in the hall.
“Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols,” Bataille said in a statement. “[This was done] to accommodate a backdrop of American flags, consistent with other policy speeches.”
In the past, the prominent IHS symbol has been covered for events such as the Mr. Georgetown pageant.
Ryan Wilson (COL ’12) of the Executive Board of the Georgetown College Democrats supported the University’s decision, adding that the President was delivering a major economic address.
“The cover up should be a non-issue,” Wilson said. “Georgetown is in no way trying to cover up its Catholic identity.”