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Military Academy Prohibits Marriage and Parenthood for Cadets

Monday, 14 January 2002 12:00 AM

VMI's rule is putting the state-funded school back into the headlines, and making it once again the target of a possible lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the new policy, any cadet who marries or learns that a child has been conceived "as a result of his or her conduct" must leave the school.

Students who do violate the policy will either resign or be removed from the corps due to "failure of eligibility," the same term applied to students who fail to pay their tuition, get poor grades or suffer a permanently disabling medical problem. Affected students will be allowed to finish the semester.

Until the policy was enacted, the military academy used a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding its cadets and parenthood.

Kent Willis, director of the Virginia ACLU, said the policy probably violates anti-discrimination measures affecting all state-funded institutions.

"This policy appears to directly violate Title IX regulations that say no educational institution that receives federal funds can discriminate against women who become pregnant," Willis said. "The only thing you can do is accommodate according to disability policy."

Willis said despite the language VMI uses to ensure that the policy affects both men and women, it would probably not pass constitutional muster because "it clearly affects women who are pregnant," and could trigger a challenge under the equal rights clause of the 14th Amendment. Willis admitted, however, that "we would also need a plaintiff, someone that has been affected by the policy."

VMI spokeswoman Donna Weaver said the policy is not discriminatory, and any criticism the policy draws is due to an overall social "hypersensitivity" to any new rules affecting women, especially pregnant women.

"I think there is a hyper-interest in the issue of pregnancy policy, when in fact this is a parenthood policy," Weaver said. "We are not singling out women."

Weaver said the policy was dictated by the fact that pregnant women are unable to perform the tasks required of a cadet, and for men, by the fact that they would be ignoring their responsibilities of fatherhood while serving as cadets.

"The institute believes that to permit an individual to undertake at once all the duties of a cadet, at the same time they ... [have] the primary accountability of a parent would be entirely inconsistent with the demands of cadet life, and inconsistent with the values we are teaching: responsibility and accountability," she said.

This is not the first time ACLU and VMI have gone head to head. ACLU brought suit against VMI most recently on May 9, 2001, on behalf of two students who argued that the traditional prayer before meals was unconstitutional. The case is still under consideration in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, Va.

The ACLU also filed a brief in the 1996 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the high court decided that the historically all-male school must admit women.

Willis said ACLU was prepared to sue the institute again, over the parenthood/pregnancy policy.

"We are deeply concerned by the policy. We are hoping that Title IX will apply, that VMI will not want to lose federal funds," Willis said. "But that is completely down the road, and no decision has been made yet."

Weaver said VMI was confident the policy would stand.

"We certainly would not enact a policy if we did not believe it to be defensible," Weaver said.

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VMI's rule is putting the state-funded school back into the headlines, and making it once again the target of a possible lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the new policy, any cadet who marries or learns that a child has been conceived as a...
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Monday, 14 January 2002 12:00 AM
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