Kathleen Sebelius and Georgetown

The controversy of Georgetown University’s recent decision to invite U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at its commencement has ended.

Earlier this year Georgetown invited Sebelius to speak at the graduation ceremonies for the school’s Public Policy Institute.

Washington’s archbishop, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, said the invitation to Sebelius, a practicing Catholic, was “shocking.” Apparently her role in crafting the mandate requiring health insurance companies to cover birth control without requiring a co-pay by employees was symbolic of some horrible problem. As Wuerl wrote:

The issue is religious freedom. Secretary Sebelius’ mandate defines religious ministry so narrowly that our Catholic schools and universities, hospitals and social service ministries do not qualify as “religious enough” to be exempt. This redefinition of religion penalizes Catholic organizations because they welcome and serve all people regardless of their faith. Ironically, because of Georgetown’s commitment to open its doors to Catholic and non-Catholic students alike, the university fails to qualify as a religious institution under the HHS mandate.

But Georgetown didn’t back down, and Sebelius still spoke. According to an article by Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post:

On Wednesday, more than 90 students signed a letter to DeGioia and the institute’s dean that explained why they wanted to hear from Sebelius. The letter reads, in part: “Many of our students may disagree with some of the speakers who come to Georgetown, but we all feel lucky to attend a university where we hear directly from top leaders in our field of studies.” The same day, more than 20 faculty members signed a letter welcoming Sebelius to the institute.

She was interrupted briefly by a protestor but carried on with her, pretty apolitical, speech. She told graduates to “always hold on to your commitment to work for the common good. If you let that focus guide you, you will never go off course.”

The Catholic Church has never shied away from controversy, especially as it applies to commencement speakers. The concern over Sebelius seems misguided, however.

There’s arguably some legitimate moral ground for opposing the presence of politicians who are stridently supportive of abortion rights, since the Catholic Church opposes this as both as a person choice and as public policy.

But, frankly, the Catholic Church has no specific policy on whether or not a national government can compel private insurance companies to cover contraceptives.” Arguably the very existence of private insurance companies is the real moral violation here.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer