Sebelius speech embraces church, state separation
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius paid homage to religious freedom and the separation of church and state in a graduation speech Friday at Georgetown University that was briefly interrupted by an anti-abortion heckler.
Catholic church authorities earlier had lambasted Georgetown's invitation for her to speak at the Public Policy Institute's awards ceremony.
Invoking the late President John F. Kennedy, Sebelius called the separation of church and state "a fundamental principle in our unique democracy."
She urged graduates to weigh different views in policy debates and follow their own moral compasses.
A man who stood up during Sebelius' speech and heckled her for supporting abortion rights was escorted off campus by police and released, a university official said.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said the invitation to Sebelius from the Jesuit school was unfortunate because her public actions represent a direct challenge to religious liberty.
Bishops view the birth control coverage mandate and other parts of President Barack Obama's health care law as attacks on religious freedom.
Several dozen protesters gathered outside the front gate of Georgetown University to demonstrate against Sebelius' speech.
While students filed into the ceremony inside, outside protesters were vocal.
"Sebelius is one of the top pro-abortion politicians in the country and the fact that Georgetown invited her to speak is a disgrace,” John Ritchie, a protester. “It's a scandal.”
In the hallway outside the ballroom, two men tried to break in during the speech, but were ultimately ushered off campus.
Demonstrators handed out anti-abortion flyers to families and graduates as they left campus after receiving their degrees.
Some were upset that politics overshadowed a special day.
“I honor everyone's opinion, but I try to remain removed from it,” says graduate Jillian Udol.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.