Boston College, ACLU spar over underground condom railroad on campus
Official Roman Catholic doctrine has long stood athwart artificial contraception, yelling stop. And if you’ve ever attended a Catholic university, you know that birth control can be pretty much impossible to obtain on campus as a result.
You’ll probably have to walk up the street to a convenience store for condoms. You might even have to buy those condoms with your own money.
At Jesuit-affiliated Boston College, an unofficial campus group has been attempting to skirt the Catholic Church’s contraception doctrine, reports Boston.com. The group, Boston College Students for Sexual Health, has been conducting a network of “safe sites” in dorm rooms and at other on-campus locations where students can receive free condoms — and lubricant! — on the down low.
This underground condom railroad has been in operation since 2009, according to NBC News.
It’s unclear how long the administration has known about the group. However, on March 15, Paul Chebator, the dean of students, and George Arey, the director of student life, sent an email to the students behind the shadowy condom operation.
“The distribution of condoms is not congruent with our values and traditions,” the email read, according to NBC News. “We do need to advise you that should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the university.”
Senior Lizzie Jekanowski, who chairs Students for Sexual Health, told NBC News that before the email her group had maintained an “an open and positive relationship” with school officials.
“None of our actions have changed at all in the past four years,” she said. “It came out of nowhere.”
Naturally, the American Civil Liberties Union has also inserted itself into the fray.
Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer with the ACLU of Massachusetts, maintains that the school’s actions contravene the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.
“Our view is that Boston College has a First Amendment right to explain, advertise and persuade students of their views, but they have gone a step further by threatening these students,” Wunsch told NBC.
“BC is saying that they’re a private university, so we can do what we want,” the ACLU advocate told The Boston Globe. “But that’s actually not true.”
The Boston College administration strenuously disagrees with the ACLU’s position. Jack Dunn, a spokesman for BC, contended that private, religious schools have the right to set their own policies concerning dissemination of birth control on campus.
Dunn also charged that the group has taken to doling out condoms in public — on sidewalks and near churches.
“Boston College doesn’t care how students handle their private lives. You can have condoms in your room,” he told NBC. “But it has become an attempt to make a mockery out of Catholic values.”
“We recognize that, as a reflection of society at large, many students do not agree with the Church’s position on these issues,” Dunn also said, according to Boston.com. “However, we ask those who do not agree to be respectful of our position, and circumspect in their private affairs.”
Boston College’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has come out in favor of the students.
“The issues regarding sexual health raised by BCSSH are important to the welfare of our students who come from a variety of faith traditions,” the professors said in a statement provided to Boston.com. “Taking disciplinary action against them on such matters of individual conscience sends the wrong message.”
The Boston Globe reports that a number of other Catholic universities around the country also say they wouldn’t allow such condom distributions on their campuses.
The University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, the University of Dayton, Providence College, and the Catholic University of America — all of them told the Globe that their policies forbid handing out condoms on campus.
“One of the teachings of our faith is that contraception is morally unacceptable,” Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University, told the Globe. “Since condoms are a form of contraception, we do not permit their distribution on campus.”