This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is another manufactured White House-related controversy, ginned up by the president’s conservative detractors, about covering up Jesus’ name during Obama’s speech this week at Georgetown University.

The meme, initially pushed by Drudge and before getting picked up by perpetually-confused media personalities like Joe Scarborough, is that the president and his team requested that Jesus’ name — specifically, a gold “IHS” monogram — be covered over in advance of Obama’s speech on the economy. (Ironically, the president referenced the Sermon on the Mount in some detail in the speech, suggesting he was not exactly giving Jesus the short shrift.)

As is usually the case when far-right activists get hysterical, there’s nothing to any of this.

The White House denied that there was any effort to specifically cover up religious imagery or symbols and noted that on the wall directly behind the president there are two religious paintings and there is other imagery throughout the hall.

“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,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye told ABC News.

Georgetown officials said that the White House requested the backdrop and asked that all signs and symbols behind the stage be covered up.

“In coordinating the logistical arrangements for the event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage in order to accommodate a backdrop of American flags, consistent with other policy speeches,” said Julie Green Bataille, associate vice president for communications at Georgetown.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* There have been several reports that the Obama administration had hoped to nominate Caroline Kennedy as the Ambassador to the Vatican, but that the Vatican rejected the selection because of Kennedy’s support for abortion rights. While the claim has been circulated widely, especially by conservative blogs, the story appears to be false. John Thavis at Catholic News Service found that the claim is not only wrong, but based on a faulty premise: “The Vatican has not been in the habit of vetting the personal beliefs or ideas of candidates before accepting them as ambassadors, [Vatican sources] said.”

* And in Scotland, police officers are asked to list their religious affiliation in voluntary diversity forms. According to the most recent tally, 10 members of the Scotland’s largest force — eight police officers and two police staff — recorded their religion as “Jedi.” Yes, from “Star Wars.” In fact, the BBC reported, “About 390,000 people listed their religion as Jedi in the 2001 Census for England and Wales. In Scotland the figure was a reported 14,000.”

May the force be with all of them, always.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.