After Covering Up Symbol for Jesus at Georgetown, White House Had Obama Speak in Front of Symbols for AMA, AARP and Human Rights Campaign

Nicholas Ballasy and Edwin Mora | December 16, 2009 | 6:33pm EST
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( – When President Barack Obama spoke at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University on April 14, the university complied with a White House request to cover up all signs and symbols on the wall of the stage behind where the president spoke. These included the monogram “IHS”-- a symbol for the name of Jesus--which is prominently engraved in gold on a pediment in the center of the back wall of stage.  

The pediment was covered up with what appeared to be black-painted piece of plywood cut to fit precisely into the triangular space containing the name of Jesus.
When controversy ensued over the covering up of Jesus’s name, the White House issued a statement saying that the backdrop of blue drapes and flags had been erected at the back of the Georgetown stage behind the president because it is “standard for many presidential events.”
Since the symbol for the name of Jesus was covered up for President Obama’s Georgetown speech, however, Obama has spoken at a number of venues while standing or sitting in front of other prominently displayed symbols and monograms that were not covered up and that thus received national exposure and publicity thanks to the president. These have included the monogram for the American Medical Association (AMA), the monogram for the AARP, and the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most prominent gay rights organization.

Since speaking at Georgetown in front of the covered up name of Jesus, President Obama has also spoken in front of the prominently displayed monograms and symbols of other educational institutions, including the “NES” monogram for the New Economics School in Moscow, Russia.

In April, the day after President Obama’s speech at Georgetown, the university’s spokeswomen told in an e-mail that Georgetown had covered up all signs and symbols on the stage, including the “IHS," at the request of the White House.
“Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage,” said Julie Green Bataille, associate vice president for communications at Georgetown.
“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,” she said. “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.”

Pediment in Gaston Hall with "IHS" covered as photographed by, April 15, 2009. (Photo by Penny Starr,

After published Bataille’s comment, the White House issued a statement saying that the blue drape and flag backdrop that was used for the speech is “standard for many presidential events.”

“The president appreciated the gracious hosts at Georgetown University where he delivered his speech on the state of the economy,” said White House spokesman Shin Inouye, in an e-mail sent to

“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,” said Inouye. “Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false.” published the White House’s statement along with a follow-up statement from Georgetown spokeswomen Bataille, who indicated that covering up the “IHS” monogram had been an unintended consequence of the White House’s request to have flags in the background as the president spoke.

President Barack Obama speaks at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscow, Russia, with NES symbol behind him, July 7, 2009.

“The White House asked for the backdrop of American flags,” said Bataille in response to’s question of whether she stood by her initial statement that the White House had requested that Georgetown cover all signs and symbols on the Gaston Hall stage. “In order to provide that, that meant that the backdrop of Gaston Hall had to be covered. Yes.”
“In order to provide a neutral backdrop with American flags, something had to be put in front of the flags so that you could see them,” said Bataille. “We were pleased to host President Obama and make this a successful event for everyone, and I’m glad that’s what was able to happen.”
Georgetown University has a set of written policies for the staging of events at Gaston Hall. The policies state that the event must be “appropriate to the ambiance of the facility” and “not in conflict with Georgetown University standards as a Roman Catholic institution.” 

“Banners identifying the requestor/organization should be hung from the hooks provided at the back of the stage,” say the guidelines. “No banners, flags, or advertising material may be hung from the wall or balcony by any means.

President Barack Obama speaks before the American Medical Association, with the group's name and symbol behind him, June 15, 2009.

Photos posted on the Internet of other events held at Gaston Hall show banners set up on the stage in such a way as to leave the “IHS” monogram clearly displayed.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Gaston Hall this Monday, the IHS symbol was unobstructed and in full view. Former First Lady Laura Bush also spoke at Gaston Hall without covering up the symbol.

The White House did not respond to questions from asking why the White House asked that all signs and symbols behind the president had to be covered up at Georgetown, but not when the president spoke at other venues. 

Georgetown also did not respond to a question from about whether the “IHS” monogram on the stage at Gaston Hall had been covered up for any other event other than President Obama’s speech.

Pesident Barack Obama speaks at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner with the group's name and symbol behind him, Oct. 10, 2009.

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