May 18th, 2012
02:58 PM ET

Health secretary addresses health care, religious freedom in protested graduation speech

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – In an anticipated and controversial address Friday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius delivered a speech that blended inspirational messages to graduates with a discussion of public policy's tough decisions, including health care and honoring religious freedom.

Her speech at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute awards ceremony had been considered controversial by conservative Catholic organizations that saw her appearance as the university validating her positions on abortion and contraception.

The speech did not mention the controversy directly, but Sebelius did address faith in public life in a section of the speech devoted to John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States.

"Kennedy was elected president on November 8, 1960," she said. "And more than 50 years later, that conversation, about the intersection of our nation's long tradition of religious freedom with policy decisions in the public square, continues."

Sebelius continued: "Contributing to these debates will require more than just the quantitative skills you have learned at Georgetown. It will also require the ethical skills you have honed - the ability to weight different views, see issues from other points of view and, in the end, remain true to your own moral compass."

A few minutes into the speech, a protester sitting with families in the crowd stood up and shouted at Sebelius, getting the crowd's attention. "Georgetown should be ashamed," he yelled, drawing boos from the crowd.

Though the protester continued, the crowd largely drowned out his statements. Police escorted him out, but his chants could be heard inside the room as he left.

Sebelius remained composed throughout, and when the speech continued, she received a round of applause.

Student reaction to the protester was largely evidenced by their reaction to his shouting.

"The students here are very committed to public service ..." said Taiyang Gul, 24, who came to Georgetown from China. "Obviously, this is not the forum for expressing opinions. People can express their views in some other occasions."
Gul said in the end, this day was for the students, to mark their success and wish them well.

Ranjini Danaraj, a 31-year-old master's in policy management graduate, dismissed the protester, calling the response to him appropriate, and said she thought Sebelius did a great job.

"I thought [the speech] was great," she said. "She did a good job of relating events from her life that were relevant to us. I thought she had a lot of life lessons to pass along."

The secretary's statements on understanding different points of view largely echoed Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who defended her invitation by saying Georgetown is "a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas."

DeGioia's defense, however, was not enough for the groups and some faculty who protested Sebelius' speech.

Just outside the Georgetown walls, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property held banners, flags and signs that protested the speech. About 15 protesters counted the rosary and said the Hail Mary prayer as people in graduation gowns walked past.

"There are certain lines that we can't cross," said Michael Drake, a volunteer for the organization. "She [Sebelius] has a pro-abortion record from her time in Kansas. ... We are very scandalized that Georgetown would even invite her."

There were also vocal groups of protesters before the speech. Leading the charge was the conservative Cardinal Newman Society, a group that has regularly blogged about speakers at Catholic universities who go against Catholic teachings.

Patrick Reilly, the group's president, labeled Georgetown as "anti-Catholic."

"It is recognized by the bishops as Catholic, so it is Catholic," Reilly said about the university. "Does it do a good job at upholding its Catholic identity? No, it is one of the worst at doing so."

At the heart of his and other protest groups' disagreement is that Catholic bishops, in 2004, released a document that outlined how a Catholic university should invite speakers to campus. In it, the bishops said Catholic universities should not bestow honors upon speakers whose views differ with those of the Catholic Church.

Reilly's take: "I would say that a commencement address falls into the category of an honor."

Protest was not limited to solely independent Catholic organizations, however. The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., also chimed in on the speech.

"Given the dramatic impact this (contraception) mandate will have on Georgetown and all Catholic institutions, it is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university," the Washington Archdiocese's statement said.

The archdiocese was referring to a Health and Human Services mandate that religious employers offer health insurance coverage that includes access to contraceptives and birth control services.

Georgetown is the oldest Catholic university in the United States. It was founded by the country's first Catholic bishop, John Carroll, and describes itself as a "global research university deeply rooted in the Catholic faith."

Catholic faith, as directed by the church's hierarchy, is adamantly against abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. As a Catholic university, Georgetown adheres to those positions - no condoms are passed out on campus, for example - but this has caused friction with the student body.

In her remarks, Sebelius addressed the path she took to become leader of the Department of Health and Human Services. She also talked about her role in implementing President Barack Obama's hallmark health care legislation.

"I have the extraordinary opportunity to help implement legislation that is finally, after seven decades of failed debate, ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care," she said.

Sebelius was one of a handful of graduation speakers at Georgetown this weekend. Many of the university's individual schools have both a commencement and an awards ceremony. Sebelius was speaking at the awards ceremony - called a tropaia, after the Greek word for "trophy" - for Georgetown's Public Policy Institute.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Abortion • Bishops • Catholic Church • Health • Health care

soundoff (184 Responses)
  1. Pura

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    February 26, 2013 at 6:21 am |
  2. Darian Garcia

    This is so important to today's history

    November 27, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Tim Blunt


    I think that your blog is really nice! The content is quite nice
    Keep up with The excellent posts.


    August 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  4. alltruth

    I find it absolutely amazing that nothing substantive was said about Sebelius' speech in the article. What has happened to journalism in this country?

    June 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  5. mike

    The mistake the Secretary and President made was that in matters affecting religion,speak to those in authority.I respect the president and secretary,but i veiw both as carnal christains because of how they express themselves.We all need professional cover in certain areas of our lives.This failure to get excellent imput about many issues is one of this administration biggest pitfalls.Like so many other instances,this is no time to fight about increasing access to abortion rights.

    June 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Sylvie

      , and the effort to deelvop civilian capacity in stabilization and reconstruction. It covers the five-year plan to increase the number of foreign service personnel by 25 percent in State and 100 percent in USAID above FY 2008 levels, looking at what has been accomplished and the uncertain prospects for the future. The joint State-USAID first quadrennial diplomacy and deelvopment review (QDDR) is taken into account, although the report was released too late (December 15, 2010) for detailed analysis. To keep the book at roughly the same length, the appendix containing the full foreign service core precepts was eliminated, along with other sections and passages that had become outdated or that readers found dull or useless.In all, new matter accounts for about 25 percent of the second edition.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  6. Dorothy

    So, let's see, the Catholic Hierarchy Agenda: 1. Keeping it's clergy out of jail for se x ual misconduct. 2. Keeping their nuns in habits and out of social justice issues. 3. Assuring their employees can't adhere to their own conscience in regards to reproductive rights. 4. Keep a segment of our population from being able to live in legally recognized monogamous committed relationships. Wow......sounds so much like the Pharisees and so little like Jesus.

    May 31, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  7. BrownNuggets

    Yep, the backdoor to our bodies is real good at one thing...being a backdoor man takes forethought upon the first occasion to willfully do it, from then on it's unnatural.

    May 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • momoya

      So you're against a n a l secks, not homersecksuality, then.. The majority of occurrences of but secks is occurring between heteros; and obviously, you have no issue with lezbians..

      There is no reason, BN, that you should be against gay marriage; but feel free to be against a n a l secks.. Many heteros will be against you, but since you're just against but secks, gays can still marry and be okay by you.

      May 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  8. Kindness

    thought to consider without a typical ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Let go and let god".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome .

    May 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "You're all smart people . I tell the truth."

      LMAO You're all smart people . I tell the truth.= EGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That makes your whole post moot!

      May 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  9. Coastal0ne

    "The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between."

    May 22, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  10. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEW MEMBERS:---->>>>>>>>>

    The Georgetown "elite" and K. Sebelius vs. the Washington RCC hierarchy? Tis a minor issue.

    The real issue that Sebelius should have addressed but did not:

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity!!!


    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

    1a. (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
    1b. (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

    Followed by:

    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

    May 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    May 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Really, like what? What effect did prayer have on the Holocaust? And what about all the children who have died of cancer?

      May 21, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Peteyroo

      In spite of all your prayers, we atheists are still here. We have not been struck down or blinded or sent to the fires of hell despite your fervent prayers to punish us or to "open our eyes."

      May 21, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Jesus

      *Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!*!

      May 21, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  12. PrimeNumber

    Nice looking lady, Sebelius. The last time I went into a drugstore I counted SIX isles dedicated to what? Feminine beauty products. Lipstick, eyeliner, rouge, base, foundation, body wash, skin softener, hair coloring, conditioner, combs, mirrors, fingernail polish, remover for same, perfume. Shampoo for numerous types of hair. How much is a trip to a beauty salon? And the HHS wants the rest of us to pay for the cheap birth control methods for whom? Women.

    May 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • AGuest9

      And how would any of that make her a better administrator? She's paid to run an agency, not take part in a beauty pageant.

      May 21, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • AGuest9

      You DO realize that when you commute into Washington every day, you leave your home before most businesses open and return after they have already closed, right?

      May 21, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  13. Dick

    Who cares? God, no God. Relion- no religion. We, here, are proof it does not matter. We can overcome any amount of advancement and be at each others throats...all in the name of peace and tranquility. LOL...I come here for the insanity of it all on both sides of ANY issue. I suggest if any of you truly believe your words make any diference or you log off not laughing...you really should not be here or, at least, get ahold of a good psychiatrist for their legal drugs. Chuckle...See Ya.

    May 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.