I don’t know that the Georgetown flap is that huge a story, but what I find most striking about it is how unnecessary it was. D.C. is chock-a-block with venues for speeches. American University and The George Washington University are five minutes away from G-town (at least by presidential motorcade). If Obama doesn’t want to give a speech with a (vaguely) religious backdrop, he shouldn’t speak at Georgetown. If Georgetown wants to be a Catholic university, maybe that should mean losing a forgettable presidential speech every now and then if the president refuses to be seen at a podium with Christian symbols on it.
As for the idea that the president shouldn’t speak at such a podium, I think some distinctions should be made. If Obama were to give a major address, say, on the state of U.S. relations with the Muslim world, it would be silly to do it at such a venue. So too bad for Georgetown and other religiously affiliated schools. But the idea that, as a general matter, when the president is speaking about budget and economic priorities, he shouldn’t do it if there’s a chance someone will see him near a religious symbol, well, that’s absurd. Real pluralism means pluralism of institutions. When the living embodiment of the executive branch shows up, that shouldn’t mean that all religious images need to be hidden. It means, perhaps, they should be polished.