Weighing ideology and theology

A St. Thomas law school student’s volunteer work at Planned Parenthood was denied credit.

The University of St. Thomas faces another debate that focuses on the place where religion and academic values meet at its Catholic law school. Late last month, the student-run Public Service Board approved Tara Borton’s request to fulfill a graduation requirement of 50 volunteer hours at Planned Parenthood. The next day, the law school dean overturned that approval.

The volunteer work the board approved was for cancer prevention, STI testing and other health services. Borton wasn’t approved to do volunteer work related to abortion or contraception.

But Dean Thomas Mengler cited Planned Parenthood’s work with abortion and contraception – two practices at odds with Catholic values – as enough reason for the student not to receive credit for volunteering with the organization. Any volunteer work there supports Planned Parenthood’s mission, he said.

The controversy has spawned a maelstrom of media coverage and criticism. Whether it’s right or wrong of the school not to accept Borton’s request, it shouldn’t be a surprise and should be a factor in students’ choice in graduate schools.

The St. Thomas law school “as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice,” its mission states. For years Catholic leaders have spoken out against Planned Parenthood and its work. The fact that the values of Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church are in complete opposition is nothing new.

And specifically at St Thomas, it’s nothing new. In 1999 an undergraduate student was denied volunteer credit toward a graduation requirement for working at Planned Parenthood.

For students considering attending a non-secular school, there is a lesson to be learned here. Your values don’t necessarily have to be completely in line with the institution’s, but don’t expect the it to encourage your support of any values contradictory to the school’s.