A few single ladies at Boston College think if you want it then you’d better put a condom on it.
The university disagrees.
As reported in the Boston press and elsewhere, an organization called Boston College Students for Sexual Health—student-run and not officially recognized by the school—has distributed condoms and sexual health information to students for free since 2009, but it was only last month that it was threatened with disciplinary action if it did not cease operations post-haste.
The conflict is as follows: Boston College, a Catholic institution, objects to all forms of contraception, and it argues that BCSSH has conducted its condom-peddling on school property which, it further argues, is grounds for intervention by administrative brass.
In short, BC claims that BCSSH has no right to violate one of the school’s core principles within the perimeters of BC real estate.
In case you wonder why such a group that has existed for four years—in full knowledge of school officials—is only now facing the prospect of recriminations for its unholy acts, the proximate explanation is that, until recently, BCSSH’s services were limited to so-called “Safe Sites” located in various dorm rooms that, while within BC’s jurisdiction, were at least private and discreet.
Now, it would appear, BCSSH has expanded to such public locales as on-campus sidewalks and in front of on-campus churches. For the powers that be, that is just one bridge too far.
“Boston College doesn’t care how students handle their private lives. You can have condoms in your room,” said BC spokesman Jack Dunn. “But it has become an attempt to make a mockery out of Catholic values.”
Yes. In distributing birth control to a demographic known for indiscriminate sexual proclivities, to what possible ends could one strive other than to irritate the Catholic Church?
Whatever BCSSH’s motives, the question is indeed one of rights. After all, Boston College is a private institution. No one has any “right” to attend, and those who enroll are enjoined to follow the school’s rules and regulations, whether they agree with them or not.
It seems like a fair enough exchange. Or it would, were it not for the slightly inconvenient fact that, as it turns out, Boston College doesn’t have a policy forbidding the distribution of contraceptives in the first place.
As schools officials acknowledge, the question of giving out condoms is “not specifically outlined in a written policy.” However, they hasten to add, “student groups are well aware that they are prohibited from distributing birth control on campus,” on the grounds that it runs “counter to Catholic beliefs.”
Call me crazy, but if an institution of higher learning is prepared to level sanctions against a group for what it deems to be heretical behavior, is it not common courtesy for that institution to go to the trouble of establishing said behavior as heretical, in print, before leveling said sanctions?
As it stands, Boston College seems to be arguing that any activity undertaken by anyone that violates any aspect of Catholic doctrine is fair game for punishment by the university.
Were a group of students to set up a curbside hamburger stand on the Friday before Spring Break, could the school shut it down for violating the Church’s prohibition on Friday meat-eating? Does anything prevent it from doing so?
Possibly yes, says the American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken an interest in the BC condom kerfuffle—namely, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act of 1979.
As precedent, the ACLU cites a 1986 case at nearby Boston University, which had charmingly removed anti-apartheid banners from dormitory windows until a judge informed the school that such acts violated students’ free speech rights and ordered them to stop.
In its current brouhaha, Boston College perhaps senses itself on shaky grounds, having thus far been exceedingly vague as to what, exactly, it plans to do to BCSSH if it does not cease and desist. Asked if expulsion of the group’s leaders was a possible outcome, spokesman Jack Dunn rather sheepishly responded,“Well, we hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Neither do I, for I do not wish to contemplate the undue hardships in securing future employment that such an action would likely bestow on these students. On the other hand, they would have the distinction (and perhaps the pleasure) of explaining this black mark on their résumés as being the result of attending a Catholic institution and working as hard as anyone there to ensure that no abortions would need to be performed on the university’s watch.
The school could thank them later.