BYU Law Accreditation at Risk as American Bar Association Advances Investigation into Discrimination Complaint

13 April 2016 — FreeBYU received a letter today documenting the decision of the American Bar Association (ABA) to advance their investigation into discrimination at the J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU Law) by referring the matter to the ABA’s Accreditation Committee.

ABA Accreditation Complaint Process

This is the second time this year that the ABA has progressed their investigation. In January, the Salt Lake Tribune, Fox 13, the National Law Journal, and several other media outlets reported on the ABA’s initial investigation into religious, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination at BYU Law.

The flowchart above shows the current status of FreeBYU’s accreditation complaint, with checkmarks notating the completed stages.

Accreditation complaints are referred to the Accreditation Committed only when the Section on Legal Education concludes that “the law school’s response to a complaint does not establish that it is in compliance with the Standards on the matters raised by the complaint” (see Rule 44(c) of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (“ABA Rules”)). In BYU Law’s case, the Accreditation Committee could next decide to impose sanctions ranging from “a requirement that the law school refund all or part of tuition or fees paid by students,” “publication or distribution of an apology or corrective statement by the law school,” to even “withdrawal of provisional or full approval,” resulting in a loss of ABA accreditation (see ABA Rules 16-18).

ABA accreditation standards protect students and faculty at accredited law schools from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and sexual orientation. BYU Law requires applicants, students, and faculty to adhere to the BYU Honor Code. Under this code, individuals who were formerly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) are, as a blanket rule, denied admission and employment. Students who were once members of the LDS Church, but who change their religious affiliation during their tenure at the school, are dismissed, terminated from on-campus employment, and evicted from university-contracted housing as a matter of course. FreeBYU’s complaint asserts that these are severe impositions on protected religious freedom. Under the BYU Honor Code, law students and faculty can also be subject to dismissal for expressing doubt in LDS teachings, undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, publishing on controversial subjects, and holding hands with or marrying a same-sex partner. FreeBYU asserts that these BYU Law policies violate ABA accreditation standards.

In keeping with published procedure, FreeBYU first raised these complaints with BYU Law directly, an event reported on by KUTV 2News on 1 June 2015. Later that month, BYU Law decided to take no action. FreeBYU continues to urge BYU Law to proactively protect religious freedom by changing its policy.

FreeBYU’s ABA complaint referenced the widely-reported 5 October 2015 action of prominent religion scholar Mark Juergensmeyer, who boycotted BYU Law’s on-campus religious freedom conference in protest against BYU’s disaffiliation policy.

The ABA’s April 2016 action also follows a petition, signed by over 2,700 BYU students, alumni, and allies, that was delivered in mid-December 2015 to BYU President Kevin Worthen, LDS Church Education Commissioner Paul Johnson, and the BYU Honor Code Office. The petition asked BYU to honor the religious freedom of its students by allowing LDS students to pay the non-member tuition rate when they change affiliation, rather than face expulsion, eviction, and termination (known as BYU’s “disaffiliation policy”). This reform would restore the policy that existed before 1993, when LDS students who left the Church were simply treated as other non-member students.

The LDS Church itself has declared that the freedom to change one’s religious affiliation is a “fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people.” Its Article of Faith affirms allowing “all men the… privilege [to] worship how, where, or what they may” (1:11). BYU is notably active in promoting religious freedom throughout the world through annual conferences and symposiums dedicated to the subject, and has called upon people everywhere to “defend religious freedom.”

Through its activism, FreeBYU is answering that call. Many of our volunteers are faithful, mainstream LDS members: if you’d like to volunteer with us, regardless of your religious affiliation, please get in touch at pr@freebyu.org.

-Brad Levin

FreeBYU Director

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