This past Friday we had another Obamacare against the Church moment, this one facilitated by Georgetown University. Georgetown invited HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to give the commencement address to graduating public policy students. Sebelius’s commencement speech faithfully followed the traditional form. It was just boring and humorless enough to sound like she may have had a hand in writing it herself.
Politico easily extracted the theme from the complete text of the speech: the response of the Church to Obamacare’s assault on Catholic institutions evokes JFK’s famous 1960 Houston speech to the Protestant ministers:
When I was in junior high, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was running for president. I wasn’t old enough to vote, but it was the first national campaign I really remember. Some of then-Senator Kennedy’s opponents attacked him for his religion, suggesting that electing the first Catholic president would undermine the separation of church and state, a fundamental principle of our democracy. The furor grew so loud that Kennedy chose to deliver a speech about his beliefs just seven weeks before the election.
In that 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.”
The text of JFK’s speech is accessible online here. It continues:
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist.
It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom.
Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Does Obamacare’s “preventive services” mandate raise an issue of religious liberty for believing Catholics, or does the Church’s response represent ecclesiastical authorities seeking to impose their will upon the general populace? Sebelius herself did not say, but she followed up her quotation from JFK with this observation:
Kennedy was elected president on November 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.
Contributing to these debates will require more than just the quantitative skills you have learned at Georgetown. It will also require 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.
These debates can also be contentious. But this is a strength of our country, not a weakness. In some countries around the world, it is much easier to make policy. The leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no criticism, no second guessing.
Sebelius also did not say, but it is nevertheless true, that Obamacare is moving us decisively in the direction of the unnamed “other countries around the world.” In the case of Obamacare’s “preventive services” mandate, the leader has delivered an edict and it is going into effect, after the election. Wake up, sheeple!
Sebelius’s appearance at Georgetown, under the auspices of an ostensibly Catholic institution, has not gone unnoticed by the Church or its faithful. As Politico noted, The Archdiocese of Washington said it was “shocking” that a Catholic institution would invite Sebelius to give a commencement address, and the conservative Cardinal Newman Society collected more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking the university to withdraw its invitation.
Georgetown alum William Peter Blatty also made his voice heard. He plans to sue the school in church court, charging that his alma mater has strayed so far from church doctrine that it should no longer call itself Catholic. Nice Deb has more.