Catholic universities across the United States say they would tell student groups distributing condoms on campus to stop and would potentially threaten disciplinary action, just as Boston College did earlier this month.
At BC, officials sent a letter to a student group that organized condom pickup spots on campus, citing the university’s mission as a Catholic institution and demanding that they cease or face possible discipline. The letter provoked angry reaction from some students and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it might pursue legal action.
Officials at Catholic colleges and universities — including the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, the University of Dayton, Providence College, and the Catholic University of America — said that their policies similarly do not allow students to distribute condoms on campus and that students who do so could face disciplinary action.
“One of the teachings of our faith is that contraception is morally unacceptable,” said Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University. “Since condoms are a form of contraception, we do not permit their distribution on campus.”
Many of the institutions pointed out that their stand against condom distribution is not specifically outlined in a written policy, but said that student groups are well aware that they are prohibited from distributing birth control on campus.
Officials at the College of the Holy Cross and Stonehill College, two other Catholic universities in Massachusetts, said they also do not allow distribution of condoms on campus.
Officials at some of the other schools said they have previously asked student groups to stop handing out condoms on campus. They said it is no different from asking groups to refrain from other activities that run counter to Catholic beliefs.
ACLU officials in Massachusetts say the threat of discipline issued by BC infringes on students’ civil rights.
“BC is saying that they’re a private university, so we can do what we want,” said Sarah Wunsch, staff lawyer at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But that’s actually not true.”
Wunsch cited the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act of 1979, which prohibits interference with civil rights by private as well as public entities. She cited a court case lost by Boston University in the 1980s after the institution attempted to force students to remove an antiapartheid poster from their dorm windows. In that case, the judge ruled that the state Civil Rights Act protected the free speech rights of the students, even though they attended a private school.
Leaders of the student group say they have a meeting scheduled with BC administrators at the end of April but, for now, plan to continue handing out contraception, lubricant, and safe-sex information at 18 on-campus locations.
Catholic universities differ in responses to some kinds of student behavior that strays from church doctrine, but most agree when it comes to distribution of contraception on campus, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
Galligan-Stierle said Catholic educational institutions derive their doctrines largely from Pope John Paul II’s “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” a document he issued on church principles in 1990, and a US-specific interpretation of that document issued in 2001 by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“There are certain ways of living that we, Catholics, believe lead to a healthier and holier life,” Galligan-Stierle said. “This falls into one of many of those ways.”
Access to reproductive health care on Catholic college campuses was thrust into the national spotlight again last year after some schools publicly denounced a federal law requiring most employers to cover contraceptives as part of their health insurance plans.
“People are having sex on campus both at BC and at other Catholic schools,” said Lizzie Jekanowski, chairwoman of the BC Students for Sexual Health, which ran the Safe Sites program.
“Catholics and non-
Catholics alike need access to this information to make the best decisions for their health.”