Graduates of the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute will gather Friday morning for an awards ceremony and keynote speech by a woman who has riled up controversy in the Catholic Church in recent months: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Leaders of the Catholic Church have argued that the invitation was inappropriate given that Sebelius was a key architect of the 2010 health-care law, which requires that employers provide contraception coverage even if it is against their religious beliefs. Georgetown, the country’s oldest Catholic university, has frequently found itself swept into the national debate about the health-care mandate and religious freedom.
Talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke for her support of contraceptive coverage — and President Obama’s subsequent public outreach to Fluke — further heightened Georgetown’s profile in the heated debate over contraceptive coverage.
Earlier this week, Washington’s archbishop called Georgetown’s invitation to Sebelius “shocking.” More than 27,000 people signed a petition circulated by a conservative Catholic think tank that urged the university to find a new speaker.
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, in turn, issued a statement on Monday that defended the invitation. “The Secretary’s presence on on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views,” he wrote.
Georgetown’s public policy institute has about 500 students, all at the graduate level; about 200 will graduate this weekend. 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.
The event is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. It’s expected to be low-key, with few, if any, protestors on or near campus.
I will also be tweeting updates from the speech, which you can follow here:
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