Civil Rights Chief At HHS Defends The Right To Refuse Care On Religious Grounds

By Alison Kodjack

When Roger Severino tells his story, discrimination is at its heart.

“I did experience discrimination as a child. And that leaves a lasting impression,” he tells me.

Severino directs the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When I meet with him at his office in the shadow of the Capitol, he talks about his childhood as the son of Colombian immigrants growing up in Los Angeles.

“I remember a white kid coming up, as I was in the pool, [who] said a racial epithet,” Severino recalls. “My response as a kid was — I was confused, in a way. Why would they say such a thing?”

Later, when he entered high school, Severino’s counselor tried to steer him to shop class and vocational training.

“And I said, ‘Well, don’t you offer honors classes?’ ” Severino says. “And the counselor, who was white, said, ‘Yeah, but you’ll have to take a test.’ “

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