May 10, 2012

President John J. DeGioia

Office of the President

Healy Hall

Georgetown University

Washington, DC 20057  

Dear President DeGioia:

The invitation to serve as a speaker during commencement exercises is one of the greatest honors that a University community can bestow upon an individual. Such invitations do much more than recognize the accomplishments of honorees; they constitute a statement by our community of the esteem in which we hold their words and actions. Our community presents such speakers as models to our graduates at the culmination of their years of study at Georgetown. As you put it so well: “Our commencement speakers are exceptional individuals... who will provide inspiration for our students as they envision more clearly the impact they can make in the world.”

For this reason, we, the undersigned members of the Georgetown University academic community, wish to state our belief that it was a grave and serious mistake--indeed, a scandalous one--for Georgetown to invite Health and Human Services Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to serve as speaker before the 2012 graduating class of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Secretary Sebelius’s role in crafting and advancing the HHS mandate that requires religious institutions to offer insurance coverage that would provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives, makes her a profoundly objectionable choice. To afford Secretary Sebelius the singular honor that is accorded in this invitation, especially in the context of the ongoing efforts of the Catholic bishops and many Catholic faithful, joined by eminent leaders of the Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities --effectively implies endorsement by Georgetown of the grave and dangerous assault upon religious liberty that the mandate constitutes. In truth, it is difficult to believe that the according of this honor to Secretary Sebelius was motivated by anything other than a desire to send a message of endorsement.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic

Bishops has issued a powerful statement defending the primacy of religious freedom as “the first liberty,” that liberty that makes possible all others. It notes with special attention the threat that is posed to this “first liberty” by the HHS mandate as proposed, and even as amended, by Secretary Sebelius. As the Bishops write in their report entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm) --indeed, invoking the example of Georgetown’s founder, Bishop John Carroll S.J. -- the robust protection of religious liberty “is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. If we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer claim to be a land of the free.” The USCCB states that “the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has been met with our vigorous and united opposition.” Georgetown, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, should be joining the Church’s leaders in this opposition; its administration and faculty should certainly not be honoring the mandate’s leading architect.

 Further, we note that the Catholic bishops of the United States addressed precisely the issue

before us in their 2004 document, Catholics in Political Life. What they had to say could not be

clearer:

 

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

We prayerfully implore you to revisit the invitation to Secretary Sebelius. It would be a mistake

to confuse the honorific and hortatory role of a commencement event speaker with the legitimate exchange of ideas in the daily life and activities of the university. We respectfully request that you withdraw this invitation to Secretary Sebelius.

 

Cc: Provost James O�Donnell

Cc: Dean Edward B. Montgomery, GPPI

Cc: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington, DC

Cc: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archdiocese of New York

Cc: Cardinal Francis George, Archdiocese of Chicago

Cc: Archbishop William E. Lori, Diocese of Baltimore

 

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Deneen

Associate Professor

Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Chair in Hellenic Studies

Founding Director, The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy

Department of Government

Kevin Doak

Professor and Nippon Foundation Endowed Chair

Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

The Rev. Stephen M. Fields, S.J.

Associate Professor, Historical/Philosophical Theology

Department of Theology

Edward J. Finn

Professor (Emeritus)

Department of Physics

The Rev. Mark G. Henninger, S.J.

Professor

Martin Chair of Medieval Philosophy

Department of Philosophy

Mark C. Murphy

Professor

McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy

Department of Philosophy

 

John Pfordresher

Professor

Department of English

The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

Professor

Department of Government

Wilfried Ver Eecke

Professor

Department of Philosophy

Dante Figueroa

Attorney at Law

Adjunct Professor

Georgetown Law Center