(CNN) — The letter is signed “cordially” but students who received the instruction to stop handing out condoms on campus say they were taken aback by demands they feel could go as far as threatening their rights.
Various dorm rooms at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, have a “Safe Site” symbol on their door. That signifies that inside are male and female condoms, personal lubricant and safer sex information, according to BC Students for Sexual Health. “If you are in need of condoms, you may knock (on) one of these doors and just ask!” the group’s website says.
Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH, told CNN that the college has always been aware of the group’s activities. “We’ve had a positive and open relationship with the administration up to this point,” she said.
But earlier this month, college administrators sent letters to students whose dorm room doors have the logo saying that distributing condoms on campus “is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university.”
“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,” concluded the letter sent by dean of students Paul J. Chebator and director of residence life George Arey.
“Private universities have the right to set their own policies and to discipline students who violate their policies. The distribution of condoms is incongruent with the university’s values and traditions,” Jack Dunn, spokesman for Boston College, told CNN on Wednesday.
“The university has commitments to uphold in regards to Catholic social teaching. Students are aware of that when they enroll here. This is a group of students who are trying to challenge those commitments in a very public manner,” he said.
The BCSSH group is not recognized by the university and gets its funding elsewhere. It claims to be the only resource on the Boston College campus that provides free sexual health programming, information and physical resources for students — mostly from dorm rooms. Every three to four weeks, the organization also hands out condoms on public sidewalks, which is what the university so vehemently opposes.
Dunn said the college administration reached out repeatedly but unsuccessfully about the matter but Jekanowski said the “abrupt e-mail” was the first warning.
“It’s disappointing that they sent a very threatening letter to individuals that are stepping up and providing resources to students that Boston College is not,” Jekanowski said.
The group’s next stop was to check in with the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which said Boston College could be violating the rights of students by threatening disciplinary action against them.
“While Boston College is religiously affiliated it’s not a church,” Sarah Wunsch, an attorney at ACLU of Massachusetts told CNN.
“The religious freedom is that they can speak out; they can express their values and views and can try to persuade people of them, but not to the extent of punishing those who have a different view of contraception,” she said.
For now, Jekanowski is hoping to be able to sort things out with the college.
But if a legal resolution was sought, one expert says Boston College has a strong case.
“I think it’s one thing if it’s off-campus. But on campus grounds, I suspect that the university is on firm legal footing there. It does have the right to set its own policies,” Sunny Hostin, CNN legal contributor said.
“You can’t force a private institution to allow that,” she said.
Boston College is a private university, founded in 1863, that is “committed to maintaining, and strengthening the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the University,” according to the school’s website. A total of 14,600 students are enrolled.