Sebelius Invite Draws Backlash
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 20:05
Despite outrage from a variety of religious and pro-life groups, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is still set to speak at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s Tropaia awards ceremony.
In a letter to the Georgetown community released Monday, University President John J. DeGioia emphasized that the invitation is not an endorsement of Sebelius’ political views and will not be rescinded.
Secured as a speaker in January before the Obama administration’s announcement regarding the modified health care regulations, Sebelius was chosen due to her accomplishments in public policy, according to Tropaia Chair Julia Druhan (GRD ’12).
Sebelius served as the second female governor of Kansas from 2003 to 2009. After being appointed HHS secretary in 2009, she played a large role in crafting the Obama administration’s health care legislation.
“We didn’t invite her for political reasons. We invited her because we wanted someone who is qualified to talk to public policy students about public service,” Druhan said.
After accepting the invitation from GPPI, Sebelius took a lead role in the HHS contraception mandate, which requires religiously affiliated institutions like Georgetown to provide contraceptive coverage to students and employees. But according to Druhan, event organizers do not think Sebelius’s speech will focus on the HHS mandate and the ensuing controversy.
The May 4 announcement that Sebelius would be speaking accelerated the already controversial debate about how the contraception mandate will be implemented at Georgetown.
Professor Patrick Deneen, the former director of the Tocqueville Forum who will resign to pursue a position at the University of Notre Dame before the beginning of the fall semester, wrote a letter to DeGioia asking him to rescind the invitation.
According to the letter, Deneen believes that hosting Sebelius at a commencement ceremony signifies Georgetown’s endorsement of the HHS mandate. Eight other Georgetown faculty members signed the letter.
In his letter to the Georgetown community, DeGioia wrote that the university disassociates itself from positions that conflict with the traditional church teachings due to its Catholic and Jesuit roots and therefore does not endorse the HHS mandate. He argued the importance of Georgetown’s acting as a forum for the free exchange of ideas.
University spokeswoman Stacy Kerr added that Sebelius was invited to speak for her role in public policy, not as a political statement.
“The Georgetown Public Policy Institute chose her as a policy leader, and [the university] regularly has high-profile speakers who come to campus, and their presence on campus does not mean that [the university] endorses their opinion,” Kerr said.
Despite this clarification, the Archdiocese of Washington released a statement Tuesday claiming that Sebelius’s speaking engagement at Georgetown was a challenge to the Church as a whole.
In addition, a petition written by President Patrick J. Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society — a group that aims to “renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education,” according to its website — has received over 27,000 signatures.
“It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly ‘pro-choice’ Catholic. … The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom,” the petition reads.
DeGioia emphatically negated these statements in his letter, noting that the invitation was extended and accepted before the debate over the HHS mandate began.
“I’m not sure why having a speaker who took a stance that is different from the university’s disqualifies [her] as a speaker,” H*yas for Choice spokesman Brad Crist (SFS ’12) said. “The university, especially a Catholic one, doesn’t have to share the same views as a speaker. Georgetown is an institution where we value diverse thought, so it would be a great place to have a pro-choice candidate speaking.”