Ricks College has won a religious exemption from a federal civil rights mandate guaranteeing college students and faculty insurance coverage for medical costs in having children out of wedlock, officials announced.

Republican Sen. Steve Symms said Tuesday the exemption sought by Joe Christensen, president of the Mormon Church-owned institution, was granted by the U.S. Department of Education.Without the exemption, the seventh the school has received in connection with civil rights requirements, Ricks would have been forced to comply because it handles federal loans and grants.

Steve Moser, a spokesman for the two-year school, said the college was justified in not providing pregnancy insurance for out-of-wedlock births because of the church's stance against premarital sex.

"We feel that, first of all, we are a private institution, and we have a code of honor that states that sexual relations out of wedlock are forbidden, so consequently, we thought the provision was unnecessary," Moser said.

A Symms aide said the exemption was sought after a complaint was filed against the college several years ago, protesting denial of insurance coverage for students and faculty members who have babies.

Moser said that since nearly all students at the junior college are single and the church forbids premarital sex, complying with the mandate would needlessly force an increase in student fees to finance the premium.