Prodded by an ultraconservative Catholic group, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has criticized Friday's scheduled speech at Georgetown University by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Although Sebelius favors abortion rights, the "sin" that incurred the archdiocese's displeasure was the Obama administration's proposed rule requiring insurance coverage for contraception for employees of religious hospitals and educational institutions. Because Sebelius' actions "present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history," the archdiocese suggested, students at the Jesuit-affiliated university shouldn't be able to hear her speak at an awards ceremony for its Public Policy Institute.
That sort of censorship would violate a great university's responsibility to expose its students to a variety of viewpoints. Last month, Rep. Paul D. Ryan(R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, addressed students at Georgetown, seeking to counter complaints that his fiscal policies are incompatible with the solicitude for the poor shown in the Gospels. Ryan's appearance contributed to the "free exchange of ideas" to which Georgetown's president, John J. DeGioia, has committed himself; so will Sebelius' speech.
To some extent, the controversy over Sebelius' appearance is a replay of the debate over President Obama's commencement speech three years ago at another iconic Catholic university, Notre Dame. The Cardinal Newman Society, which opposed Obama's appearance there, is also the group that has circulated petitions against Sebelius, describing her as "a publicly 'pro-choice' Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration's effort to restrict the Constitution's first freedom."