Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Free Condoms and Lubricants at Boston College: A Gratuitous Insult to Catholic Values

I am no fan of Catholic colleges and universities, and I will tell you why. Many of them are not that Catholic. Too many Catholic institutions tolerate behavior on the part of students and faculty that is inconsistent with Catholic doctrine and traditions. For example, several Catholic universities shelter faculty members who claim to be Catholic but strive to tear down Catholic values and traditions in their teachings and writings.

Nevertheless, Boston College, a Jesuit institution, does not deserve to be harassed by a group of its own students who are distributing free condoms and lubricants on the BC campus. A founding member of the group, which calls itself Boston College Students for Sexual Health, said the group's aim is to "normalize the presence of condoms, whereas before, they were super taboo."

In addition to distributing free condoms, the group maintains about 15 dorm rooms, which they call "safe sites," where students can get free male and female condoms, lubricants, and sexual health pamphlets.

Artificial birth control is contrary to Catholic doctrine, but Lizzie Jekanowski, a group member, justified the group's action on the grounds that "[s]tudents are going to have sex regardless" and they need to be educated about how to use condoms. Jekanowski even argued that the group's activities are consistent with Catholic values.  "It harkens to a deeper Catholic morality of caring for your neighbor--and that's literally what we're doing, caring for our neighbors."

According to a New York Times article, the group has operated on the BC campus for several years with the implicit approval of campus authorities. Now, however, BC officials are threatening disciplinary action if the group continues to distribute condoms on campus.

Not surprisingly, the Massachusetts ACLU backs the condom distributors.  According to Carol Rose, an ACLU spokesperson, BC does not have the right to impose its religious beliefs on its students who "are engaged in lawful and constitutionally protected activity."  It's a safe bet that the ACLU will sue BC if it suspends or expels a student for distributing condoms or lubricants on campus.

Here's my take on this dispiriting episode.

First, Boston College is one of the most expensive and exclusive private universities in America. I would be very surprised if a single BC student does not have health insurance. BC students who want birth control or information about birth control can go to their health care providers for assistance.

Second, Boston College is located in the wealthy town of Newton, Massachusetts, which has plenty of pharmacies.  A Boston College student who wants lubricants or condoms can purchase them at a CVS store or a Walgreen's just like millions of Americans do every day.

Finally, Boston College is a Catholic institution, and it should have the right to enforce Catholic doctrine on its own campus. If Ms. Jekanowski and her classmates disagree with BC's policies they should attend another college. 

It seems to me that this student group's activities are nothing more than an effort to embarrass the college they freely chose to attend. By distributing condoms and lubricants on the BC campus, the group has forced the college to either compromise its Catholic values or risk being sued by the ACLU.

Lizzie Jekanowski and her friends will soon graduate from Boston College and several members of their condom-distributing group will likely apply to prestigious graduate programs in law, business or medicine. When that time comes, they will be proud to have attended Boston College and they will hope that the prestige of their undergraduate institution  improves their chances of being accepted by an elite graduate school.

Instead of showing some appreciation for the privilege of attending a college that has provided them with so many lifetime opportunities, Lizzie and her friends have chosen to insult Boston College with a gratuitous condom-distribution scheme.  And for Lizzie to self-righteously justify the group's action as an application of Catholic values is offensive.

I hope Boston College deals forthrightly with this fatuous group.  If the Jesuits can't enforce Catholic doctrine on their own college campuses they should get out of the education business.


Jess Bidgood. Ban on Free Condoms Jeopardizes Student Group's Work with Catholic College. New York Times, April 8, 2013, p. A12.

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