WASHINGTON — 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.

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 a requirement to cover birth control and other parts of President Barack Obama's health care law as attacks on religious freedom.

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.