Policy response: thy liberty in law


Although I disagree with Miss Grant’s recent piece in The University News, titled: “The new sex policy: ethical or overbearing?” I want to thank its author for two reasons. 

First, for making me aware of the University of Dallas’ new policy on premarital sexual acts on campus. Secondly and more importantly, because civil disagreement is rarer and rarer in our public discourse, and something thus more necessary that we, as University of Dallas students, act to preserve.

The sentence that seems to me to most define the author’s position on the new policy, and our disagreement, is as follows: “As a private university, UD has the prerogative to codify and enforce religious policies; however, the legislation of morality ultimately works against the mission of UD to educate its students in the Truth.”

With the first clause, I am in no essential disagreement, although the author herself seems to later intimate that it is good that UD does not implement certain religious policies, such as requiring Mass attendance. However, it is not clear to me how she distinguishes between the “enforcement of religious policies” (allowed, but perhaps not always good) and “the legislation of morality” (supposedly never in our best interests). 

In fact, the university reserves the right to legislate on things not pertaining to the virtue of religio, which, according to Cicero, “consists in offering service and ceremonial rites to a superior nature that men call divine.”

For instance, we have a policy forbidding the use of campus resources to access pornography (and its on-campus possession by undergraduate students), forbidding the stealing or destruction of private property and, of course, forbidding such heinous acts as sexual assault.

These are all “legislation[s] of morality,” but not ones about which I imagine we are in disagreement. 

One of the reasons we have rules concerning morally illicit acts is to minimize the harm done to others and to oneself; the prudential good of having such a rule depends on the gravity of harm and the ability of the authority to enforce the rule.  

Although premarital sexual acts may seem like a private thing, in a college setting where students live together in community such ‘private acts’ do not remain so for long. The walls in the dormitories are thin. 

When I was a freshman at UD, a friend of mine was perennially made uncomfortable by a roommate and that person’s significant other’s premarital behavior, which made my friend a stranger in his or her own room. I imagine this is not a wholly isolated incident, although surely not characteristic of student life in the dormitories as a whole. 

Furthermore, the use of rules does not preclude the kind of conversation the author advocates, but rather encourages it. 

Antinomianism, by which I mean the general habit of mind that sees laws as primarily restrictions of our freedom, plays a significant part in our contemporary conversation; I see no reason to make similar assumptions. 

Although tyranny certainly can exist, rules and laws exist in order to assist us to actualize our freedom and independence rather than to become enslaved to sin. Rules and laws have a teaching function which helps us to live virtuously and independently. 

I don’t imagine that the university administration expects this small change to fully address students’ efforts to live chastely and grow in virtue. However, by holding students to higher standards than the permissive, hedonistic culture of the world, the university forms a social environment in which students can not only discuss “the beauty of saving sex for marriage,” but incarnate that beauty in their lives.


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