By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 17, 2009 ( – Several Christian leaders are expressing outrage after a symbol of Jesus’ name, normally on display over the stage where President Obama spoke at Georgetown University Tuesday, was covered.

What appears to have been a panel of black-painted plywood blocked the face of Gaston Hall’s central pediment bearing the “IHS” symbol, an ancient monogram of the first three Greek letters of Jesus’ name.  Other such imagery around the room was not covered. 

The decision to cover the symbol was not well received by many prominent Catholics, who have questioned the motivation behind the move. 

David Gregory, the Editor in Chief of the Georgetown Academy, was among the first to express alarm at the plaque’s absence, calling the cover-up “profoundly egregious.”

“Regardless of who is responsible,” Gregory wrote, “this is very clearly a crime against Georgetown’s Jesuit-Catholic identity, the defining essence that underlies and animates all that Georgetown does and is.” 

Later it was confirmed that the image was covered by the University at the White House’s request.  “Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage,” university spokesman Andy Pino told 

Georgetown Associate Vice President Julie Green Bataille said that it was deemed most respectful to block out the symbol, too high to be covered by the standard blue drape, “so as not to be seen out of context.”

As criticism from the Christian corner grew, the White House was unapologetic Thursday, saying that the goal of the alteration was simply “to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events.”  “Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false,” said the statement.

Some conservative commentators questioned whether the negative response was overblown.  Yet many others suggested that the decision on the part of the Obama team was part of an overall negative attitude toward the Christian faith.

“It is difficult to imagine how any President could ask a Catholic University to cover up a sacred symbol representing Jesus just to accommodate a speech and create a background,” remarked Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition. 

“In 32 years of public ministry, I have never seen a President of the United States show such complete contempt and disrespect for faith,” said Mahoney.  “This action by the White House should appall and anger every American who cherishes sacred traditions … especially Christians.”

Anglican Bishop Council Nedd, chairman of the national advocacy organization In God We Trust, said in a statement today that Americans are “fed up with the President’s hostility towards faith.”  Nedd also called Obama “the most anti-religious President in our nation’s history,” citing Obama’s anti-public-prayer nominations to leading positions, and atheist activists to advisory positions.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue also put in his two cents, saying, “The cowardice of Georgetown to stand fast on principle tells us more than we need to know about what is going on there, but the bigger story is the audacity of the Obama administration to ask a religious school to neuter itself before the president speaks there.”