Addressing Georgetown graduates amid complaints from Catholic leaders over the White House’s position on contraception coverage, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius alluded to the controversy by citing John F. Kennedy’s famed 1960 speech on religious freedom.
That battle ended up drawing in Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who became a national figure after she was denounced as a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for urging Congress not to restrict birth control coverage.
Sebelius’ speech was interrupted early on by an anti-abortion protestor, who was quickly removed amid a shower of boos from the audience.
Continuing the speech and without mentioning the recent political fight specifically, Sebelius told students at the school’s Institute for Public Policy that “ultimately, public policy is about making difficult choices,” among them “the moral and economic imperative of providing health care to all our citizens.”
“In his talk to Protestant ministers, Kennedy talked about his vision of religion and the public square, and said he believed in an America, and I quote, ‘where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against us all,’” she said. “Kennedy was elected president on Nov. 8, 1960. And more than 50 years later, that conversation, about the intersection of our nation’s long tradition of religious freedom with policy decisions that affect the general public, continues.”
In concluding her remarks, she urged graduates to draw on the “ethical skills you have honed — the ability to weigh different views, see issues from other points of view, and in the end, follow your own moral compass.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.