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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama at Georgetown

Q: Did Obama ask Georgetown University to remove all religious symbols before he would speak there?

A: A religious symbol was covered at the Catholic and Jesuit institution after the White House asked for a neutral TV backdrop.


I heard that when President Obama spoke at Georgetown Univ. he asked that all religious symbols be removed or shrouded. I doubt this very much, but thought I would ask so that I can set some people right.


This mini-controversy bubbled up shortly after President Obama gave a speech on the economy on April 14 in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. Numerous media outlets reported on it, all of them saying virtually the same thing. But we’re still getting several queries from readers about it.

The monogram "IHS" – a symbol for Jesus – that appeared behind the podium where Obama spoke at Georgetown was covered up with a piece of black-painted plywood. This led to speculation that the White House had asked that all religious imagery in the hall be covered or removed, as our reader notes. But Georgetown University and the White House have said this was not a case of any kind of religious cover-up.

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Service, which says it aims to counter a liberal bias in the media) was one of the first to cover the story, and it reported that Julie Green Bataille, associate vice president for communications at the university, said that all university signs were covered to accommodate a presidential backdrop:

Georgetown University spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille: In coordinating the logistical arrangements for yesterday’s event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage.

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.

Bataille’s statement has been repeated in other news accounts. A White House spokesman also told news organizations following the story that the only motivation behind the request was to create a presidential image for TV. "Decisions made about the backdrop for the speech were made to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false,” spokesman Shin Inouye told ABC News, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

CNSNews.com noted that while the "IHS" behind the president’s podium wasn’t visible, "the letters ‘IHS’ are posted elsewhere around the hall approximately 26 times" and that Obama mentioned Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in his remarks. There are also religious paintings visible high above Obama’s head in MSNBC’s video of the speech.

– Lori Robertson


Iovino, Jim. "Jesus Missing From Obama’s Georgetown Speech." NBC Washington. 17 Apr 2009.

Duin, Julia. "Obama at Georgetown: The mystery of the missing sign." Washington Times. 15 Apr 2009.

Mora, Edwin. "Georgetown Says It Covered Over Name of Jesus to Comply with White House Request." CNSNews.com. 15 Apr 2009.

Wan, William. "Obama and a Georgetown Cover-Up." Washingtonpost.com. 16 Apr 2009.

Silva, Mark. “Obama at Georgetown: No Jesuit seal.” Los Angeles Times. 16 Apr 2009.

Travers, Karen. “WH: No Religious Cover-up at Georgetown.” ABC News. 16 Apr 2009.