Kathleen Sebelius, JFK, and the HHS Mandate

Posted by John Jansen (May 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm)

Sebelius at Georgetown

Despite a strong rebuke delivered to Georgetown University by the Archdiocese of Washington, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed the graduates of the school’s Public Policy Institute this morning.

In her remarks, Sebelius couldn’t resist wading into the area of church/state relations. Toward the end of her speech, she said the following:

Ultimately, public policy is about making difficult choices. Today, there are serious debates underway about the direction of our country – debates about the size and role of government, about America’s role as a global economic and military leader, about the moral and economic imperative of providing health care to all our citizens. People have deeply-held beliefs on all sides of these discussions, and you, as public policy leaders, will be called on to help move these debates forward.

These are not questions with quick and easy answers. 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.”

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. [emphasis added]

Note in particular the paragraph in bold, in which she quotes President Kennedy. And then think about the controversy surrounding the HHS Mandate.

One wonders if Sebelius has really thought through the implications of the words she quotes from JFK.

Clearly, to her mind, institutions such as those run by the Catholic Church are “seek[ing] to impose” their will onto others when these institutions balk at being required to provide their employees with free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs.

But in reality, just the opposite is happening.

Under the HHS Mandate, the federal government is imposing its will on religious institutions run by churches who believe such “services” are morally wrong.

Note also the second part of President Kennedy’s remarks: Sebelius remarked that Kennedy believed in an America “where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against us all.”

Ironically, this is exactly what those of us who oppose the HHS Mandate have been saying all along.

Despite repeated attempts by the media to portray the fight over the HHS Mandate as merely a “Catholic” issue, it is not merely an assault on the religious freedom of Catholics.

Rather, the HHS Mandate is an assault on the rights of all Americans.

In recent weeks, Kathleen Sebelius has admitted that she didn’t even bother consulting Supreme Court decisions on religious liberty before she promulgated the HHS Mandate.

Perhaps, however, she consulted the words of JFK that she so badly misinterpreted.

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15 Responses to “Kathleen Sebelius, JFK, and the HHS Mandate”

  1. Hagan Kelly says:

    Secretary Sebelius should hang her head in shame. She is so obviously overwhelmed with her job and position that she has allowed her own conscience to be seduced. To quote President Kennedy and then to blithely ignore the meaning of his words is at LEAST utterly shameful and in actuality downright criminal.
    I as a Vietnam veteran and a practicing Catholic will not stop or hesitate in my efforts to proclaim to the world, the moral and LEGAL adverse ramifications of the HHS mandate!

    May 19th, 2012 at 2:10 am
  2. Ralph Celentani says:

    Mr. Obama and Ms. Sebelius have made their position clear on this issue. What scares me is the question of what we Americans will do if the Supreme Court upholds the HHS mandate. Clearly we can not look to the federal government to uphold our constitutional rights.
    Clearly we must find leadership elsewhere and the only leadership I see is the USCCB.

    It is time to move the discussion to the next question; if we lose in court, what comes next; non-payment of taxes, non-violent civil disobedience or even worse?
    God help us.

    May 19th, 2012 at 7:22 am
  3. Doug Indeap says:

    Arguments about the health care law have gone from wrong to ridiculous. The law does not contravene the Constitution Nor does it force any employer to act contrary to his or her conscience. Nor is the mandate to purchase insurance unprecedented. Those waving their arms about the health care law infringing religious liberty have their facts wrong.

    First, the Constitution. Confronted by questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith, the courts have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, torts, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. (E.g.,

    When the legislature anticipates that application of such laws may put some individuals in moral binds, the legislature may, as a matter of grace (not constitutional compulsion), provide exemptions for conscientious objectors.

    The real question here then is not so much whether the First Amendment precludes the government from enacting and enforcing the generally applicable laws regarding availability of health insurance (it does not), but rather whether there is any need to exempt some employers in order to avoid forcing them to act contrary to their consciences.

    Second, no need for an exemption. While some, e.g., Catholic bishops, may well oppose the law’s policy of promoting the availability of medical services they find objectionable, the law does not put employers in the moral bind they suppose. Many initially worked themselves into a lather with the false idea that the law forces employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers consider immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved. Solved–unless an employer really aims not just to avoid a moral bind, but rather to control his employees’ health plan choices so they conform to the employer’s religious beliefs, and avoid paying the assessments that otherwise would be owed. For that, an employer need an exemption from the law.

    Indeed, some have continued clamoring for such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments to the government they would indirectly be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to many taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of “their” tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for making war, providing health care, teaching evolution, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral? If each of us could opt out of this or that law or tax with the excuse that our religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

    In any event, those complaining made enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking (yay!) and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required (yay!). Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain, fretting that somehow the services they dislike will get paid for and somehow they will be complicit in that. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They counter what they call the government’s “accounting gimmick” with one of their own: “religious dollars.” These dollars, it seems, can only be used to pay for things conforming to an employer’s religious beliefs even after the employer spends them and they thus become the property of others, e.g., insurers or employees. I can only wonder what proponents would think of their tag-the-dollar idea if they realized that I have loosed some “atheist dollars” into society, some of which have found their way into their wallets. Those dollars can be used only for ungodly purposes, lest I suffer the indignity of paying for things I disbelieve. If one lands in your hands, whatever you do, for god’s sake, don’t put it in the collection plate.

    Finally, all the hoo-ha about the insurance mandate being “unprecedented” (as if that is even an argument about its legality) is simply false. Congress passed and Presidents George Washington and John Adams signed bills mandating that all able-bodied white men between 18 and 45 provide themselves with arms, knapsacks, and ammunition and that shipowners and seamen purchase medical insurance.

    May 19th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
  4. phil ws says:

    eve is gone, but the planned parent hoods have opened a shop in a baldwin hills strip mall. (90% afro-american neighborhood in los angeles).Click Here will yield a flyer ready for distribution on site. i am not black and not female and am seriously hesitant to participate solo in distribution in that area.
    are there any churches in the black community that might be interested in educating their neighbors on the spiritual ramifications of sanger’s murder mills ?

    May 19th, 2012 at 6:14 pm
  5. Jason says:

    Catholic??? Ummm If you call yourself a Christian period you should be pro-life. Saying your a pro-choice Christian is like saying your a Christian and a Nazi. (Which Hitler did BTW to get public support, in reality he was a pagan, I mean seriously look where most of those symbols came from. (Swastika, Deaths Head, SS bolts, Ruins, ect) Alot of politicans lie and say they are Christian to get votes.

    May 20th, 2012 at 2:57 am
  6. Carla says:

    John has some very astute observations of Selius’ speech. “where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against us all.
    Ironically, this is exactly what those of us who oppose the HHS Mandate have been saying all along.”

    May 20th, 2012 at 11:10 pm
  7. Peggy Hagen says:

    Otherwise known as “co-opting the narrative.”

    May 21st, 2012 at 12:31 pm
  8. BREAKING: 43 Catholic Institutions Sue Obama Administration over HHS Mandate « Stand Up for Religious Freedom says:

    […] • Kathleen Sebelius, JFK, and th… […]

    May 21st, 2012 at 1:11 pm
  9. Bob Shook says:

    My first opportunity to vote for a US President was Kennedy…..He was so right on the separation of Church and State. The Secretary of HHS quoted the former President correctly, and it should serve us well today.
    The Catholic Bishops need to stay the hell out of the political arena.

    May 22nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm
  10. Irene says:

    Dear Bob: No citizen of the United States needs to “stay the hell out of the political arena,” as you suggest. Bishops and atheists have the exact same constitutionally-protected rights to petition their government, assemble, speak and practice — or not practice — religion.

    Do you really believe that people who are being compelled by the government to act against their consciences have no right to protest and seek to have the law changed? I suggest you read the U.S. Constitution. It takes about 10 mintues.

    May 23rd, 2012 at 9:42 am
  11. Lillian Porter says:

    Bob Shook, like Sibelius, has so missed the point. The Constitution states that government is supposed to stay the hell out of religious business. Like her he also overlooked the part about Kennedy’s speech that said “religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is an an act against us all”.

    May 23rd, 2012 at 1:52 pm
  12. Mary Cote says:


    The Catholic Church is being attacked as is all religious freedom. So we should sit quietly and ask our bishops to do the same. You are obviously ignorant of the true meaning of separation of Church and State. It was designed to keep the State out of the churches’ business, not the other way around. Our founding fathers knew what could happen if the state mandates conscience and moral. There will be none. Government run a muck. Look at Europe during Henry the VIII, Germany under Hitler, Italy and Russia with dictators. All of these people set up “moral” standards according to the state’s interests. Study more and talk less.

    May 23rd, 2012 at 3:19 pm
  13. Diane Sellers, RN, LMFT says:

    Sebelius said,”Ultimately, public policy is about making difficult choices.” What she means is,”For me, public policy is about removing choices.” God give us strength to stand up to those imposing their choices on us. For the many women who regret their abortions, the IRMA Network exists to empower them to heal and have a voice.

    May 24th, 2012 at 10:21 pm
  14. ekeni_aus says:

    In Aus this is not a problem because employers dont provide health insurance; individuals take it out for themselves and their families. But it is so much a part of being employed in the US – ie lose your job lose your health insurance etc (bizarre as your health risk is actually heightened at that point. Surely there is an alternative where employees freedom of choice and conscience (re eg contraception etc)is allowed to be exercised via an alternative insurance provider? Surely the Church organisations can fund to on level and the enmployee add via another company the remaining costs? Though given that most Catholic women of reproductive age also use artificial contraception and – at least here in Aus – surveys of those volunteering a faith show that abortion rates are painfully similar … what company would wish to take on that obvious outlay …No disrespect is intended.

    May 25th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
  15. ekeni_aus says:

    Ralph: already across the world (including one would imagine in the US),devout Christians through their taxes already do provide public hospitals and therefore health care (including terminations etc)and through public schooling access to a broad range of health care information, including on reproduction and responsible sexual behaviour together with information on risks involved including emotional, physical, social etc risks(just as Catholic education provides the same or very similar information but one trusts with a greater dose of what the church teaches on the subject)…

    Devout Christians can also pray when visiting hospitals or their places of worship for ALL people therin, born, unborn, sinners and sinned against; and at least work together so that the personhood of the parties is acknowledged – and we make our decisions in greater awareness … but also remembering the violence that some women endure from spouses because they are pregnant…. and poverty, unemployment, forced marital relations, drunken encounters, lack of love from ‘partner’, family and friends if single …

    Are we walking in their shoes? Do we imagine all employees are saints? Surely there must be away out of tis that respsects the individual conscience of teh employee and the collective conscience of the employer?

    Finally (you longed for this), are we providing a loving environment to encourage birth? Individually we try, and still we fail …

    May 25th, 2012 at 4:29 pm