Letter to the BYU Board of Trustees

FreeBYU Letter

As has been discussed elsewhere, BYU expels and forces the unlawful eviction of LDS students who change their faith.  Because of the LDS Church’s public stance on the importance of religious freedom, we have high hopes that bringing this problem to the Church’s attention will begin the process of change.

On November 11th, 2014, we sent the following letter to the Chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees, Thomas S. Monson.

Dear President Monson,

There are few privileges more sacred than the freedom to live one’s religion. In America, this precious freedom is protected in a way that enables Latter-day Saints to practice their faith safely, openly, and collectively. It is this very protection that makes it possible for BYU to exist in its current form, awarding widely recognized academic degrees while maintaining its distinct mission: “to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.”

I write to ask that you, as Chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees, extend that same precious religious freedom to LDS BYU students.

Context

Please permit an explanation of the context for this request. I represent FreeBYU, whose mission is:

“to promote freedom of thought and freedom of religion at BYU. Specifically, we ask that the Honor Code be updated to allow LDS students to change their personal religious beliefs without being expelled from the University and evicted from their housing.”

The language in question reads:

Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement…

Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student’s ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing. Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual’s name from the official records of the Church.

These statements from the Honor Code impose religious discrimination: a special burden on the religious choice of LDS BYU students. Though Muslim and Catholic students at BYU are permitted to freely change religions, LDS students who do likewise are evicted, terminated from their on-campus jobs, and expelled from the University.

how it works

This religious discrimination is inconsistent with the principle of religious freedom espoused and advocated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As one Latter-day Saint put it:

The measure of religious freedom is the magnitude of the burden placed upon its exercise.

There is no exercise of religious freedom more fundamental than expressing your chosen religion: yet BYU terminates, evicts, and expels BYU students who exercise their God-given religious conscience to join another faith or leave religion altogether. This burdening is inconsistent with the expressed LDS emphasis on religious freedom, a value best articulated by Joseph Smith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” That privilege applies to all men ‑ including LDS BYU students who choose to leave the fold.

Proposal

There is a better way: treat former LDS students and non-LDS students in the same way.

how it should work

Disadvantages

It is important to address the possible downsides of this approach. Perhaps BYU would lose a portion of its LDS character, since one consequence would be the reduction of the percentage of the student body that are on the records of the Church as members. The counterargument here is that the overwhelming majority of LDS students will freely choose to retain their membership. And for LDS BYU students whose religious convictions have changed: if the only thing keeping them in the pews is their fear of losing their jobs, housing, and academic progress, what value is there in incentivizing a facade of sincere religious observance?

There may be other potential disadvantages as well: and to the extent they exist, they should be duly considered.  In most cases, however, it is difficult to see who gains by placing special burdens on the religious freedom of LDS BYU students who decide to resign their membership. While I was attending BYU in 2009, you made a visit to campus and counseled us to “do what is right” and “let the consequence follow”, echoing President Grant’s favorite hymn. The change that I am proposing is a valuable opportunity for BYU to demonstrate its commitment to this worthy principle and to lead by Christlike example.

Advantages

On the other hand, there are numerous, substantial advantages to be gained from this approach.

  • God’s children enjoy religious freedom: LDS BYU students will experience a privilege they did not enjoy before: the freedom to change religions without losing their jobs, housing, and academic progress.
  • Better Reputation: BYU and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be perceived more positively when they are seen to make their internal actions consistent with their external profession of the importance of religious freedom.
  • Integrity: As missionaries, our greatest hope was to remove obstacles to baptism for those who were converted in their hearts. If we are to protect as well as claim religious freedom, we must similarly remove obstacles for those whose hearts are converted away from LDS faith. Honoring the religious freedom of all is the right thing to do.

Conclusion

My proposal is to simply strike the aforementioned clauses from the Honor Code. Since the BYU Board of Trustees is the ultimate decision maker for the content of the BYU Honor Code, I am reaching out to you directly to request this important change to the text of the Honor Code. I anticipate your reply.

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19 thoughts on “Letter to the BYU Board of Trustees

  • You are doing important work.

    If you’re looking for submissions, I would be willing to publish an anonymous profile on your site. I left BYU and the church with one semester left. I now live on the East Coast. The financial burden and time obligation to transfer and finish 20 credits at an East Coast school just does not make sense for my budget and my schedule, but I’ve reached the point in my career where I’ll be routinely passed over for promotions and new jobs if I don’t finish. I would happily pay non-LDS tuition to complete my degree via Independent Study (if they really fear “negative influences” on campus :)). I could also transfer credits into BYU from another school to finish … but the endorsement restrictions apply even for off-campus and online students … and graduation, of course.

    Thank you for your continued activism and advocacy.

  • Don’t forget that another positive for BYU (although negative for the student) is that the tuition rate goes up because the student is no longer eligible for the tuition reduction as a member.

  • The issue is that the honor code hasn’t been read here.

    “Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement[…]
    Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement (See Withdrawn Ecclesiastical Endorsement below).”

    The reasoning for this can be drawn from the ideology of the Church. As this school is a private university run by the Church, it is important to remember that Church teachings play a heavy role. Leaving the church, renouncing the religion, certainly can be viewed in a worse light then committing adultery. For those members either current or former, you may remember that the church teaches that it is a greater fall for those who have had the light of the gospel and turned away from it.

    The Church doesn’t necessarily reject people because of their religion, but rather they turn away students who have renounced their LDS faith (a much more narrow group). It is a part of enforcing the Church’s religious belief. If your cause was for a non-member who was rejected for such religious affiliation, I would full-heartedly support you, but the fact that it was a member who rejected the church while attending is essentially breaching the honor code. The school is entirely within its rights to do so, and I am not so sure there is anything wrong in doing so. To play the “religious freedom” card without enlightening the public as to the churches stance on rejecting what they consider the “truth,” and to not even refer back to the Endorsement clause of the Honor Code is in a sense deceitful.

    Does that it suck the position she is in? Sure, but there are consequences to every decision. It may seem callous, but you can’t be whimsical in which rules you enforce and which you don’t.

    • Does that it suck the position she is in? Sure, but there are consequences to every decision. It may seem callous, but you can’t be whimsical in which rules you enforce and which you don’t.

      Logan, this is precisely why we hope to *change the policy. If the policy puts students in a poor position, there is no reason that it can’t be changed.

    • Thank you Logan.
      Actions have consequences. Always have, always will.

      Unfortunately, the liberal part of society misleads people into magical thinking – “I don’t like the consequence my action will bring to me, so the world needs to change to accommodate my wishes. Whatever I want to claim as my “rights” must trump everything. Why? Because I want it to be so.”

      • Whatever I want to claim as my “rights” must trump everything. Why? Because I want it to be so.”

        The LDS Church discusses the importance of religious freedom as a right here: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/official-statement/religious-freedom . In fact, they specifically address the need for religious freedom at universities.

        So the question really isn’t whether religious rights are important. According to the LDS Church, they are. The question is, why is BYU exempt from the moral rules that the Church demands of every other university?

        • Actually, that isn’t the question at all. It is disappointing that you feel the need to distort the Church’s position and to try to cast this discussion in that light. It certainly says something about the lack of integrity in your movement.

          The LDS Church does value freedom of religion. However, your request has little to do with freedom of religion. Nobody is trying to limit your right to believe anything you want.

          If you don’t believe in LDS church teachings, you should go join with people who hold similar beliefs (in whatever it is you now profess to believe) and enjoy their fellowship. BYU is simply saying that you should go enjoy that fellowship somewhere else – i.e. if you apostatize, please go elsewhere.

          If BYU were to follow your logic and allow you to stay at BYU as an apostate, what will you want next? to speak in LDS church meetings to spread your apostasy (or, from your viewpoint, to point out the errors in the congregations’ beliefs/spread your new beliefs)? Would you expect the Church to reserve time for you after General Conference for a ‘rebuttal’?

          If you have found a better way, by all means, go pursue it on your own or with your new coreligionists. Please just do it somewhere other than at an LDS Church institution.

          • Actually, that isn’t the question at all. It is disappointing that you feel the need to distort the Church’s position and to try to cast this discussion in that light. It certainly says something about the lack of integrity in your movement.

            I’m sorry that you feel that the question suggests a lack of integrity, but I feel like it is both legitimate and reasonable. BYU hasn’t always had this policy (it became the policy in the early 90’s), and it isn’t a matter of doctrine. Of course the LDS Church has the right to set rules about who can join and remain in the church, but BYU is an accredited university where non-members attend.

            The LDS Church really does make specific statements about how universities should regard religious freedom. BYU seems to be an exception to their perspective. Is it unreasonable to ask why that is?

            Rather than saying, “if you want to believe something else, then leave,” why not make a rather simple change to the policy that will both
            1) show that BYU and the LDS Church are serious about religious freedom, and
            2) improve relations with the nonmember community

            They have a lot to gain and little to lose.

  • Wonderful letter, hopefully this is something that can be changed without a decade long struggle. I am a BYU Alum and hope my children can attend there. I am almost tempted to have them apply as non-members so that they have more flexibility while they are there, should this practice perpetuate.

    • Wow. So you are planning on having your children leave the church while they are at BYU?

      I hope the practice is NOT changed. Everyone has the right to choose what they believe. However, if you turn away from the church, you should not expect to stay at BYU. You should go somewhere where your “new” views are espoused rather than staying at BYU to inflict your views on others.

      I get really tired of apostates claiming their “right” to try to drag others away from the church. I defend anyone’s right to believe what they want and to leave the church if they are so inclined – but I do not support anyone’s desire to drag others with them.

      • Not everyone who leaves the LDS Church is intent on pulling other people out as well. Our proposed changes needn’t allow former LDS students to actively denigrate the LDS Church while attending BYU.

        • It may be true that not ever single apostate would try to pull others out, but it is common enough that there is no reason to tolerate their potential disruption to the vast majority of students at BYU.

          Just how does your proposal prevent ‘former LDS students from actively denigrating the LDS church while attending BYU’? Wouldn’t it require ongoing oversight? Wouldn’t you then complain about your “right” to speak and criticize? There would be no end to the spiral of whining from a miniscule segment of the student body. It is much cleaner to encourage apostates continue their education somewhere else with others who share their beliefs.

          • Hi Bill,

            Thanks for raising the oft-expressed concern about ex-LDS students actively denigrating the LDS church while still attending. I will attempt to speak to one of your points, and then make a couple additional points.

            First, to your oversight question – the mechanisms for ongoing oversight already exist.
            (1) BYU has a limited academic freedom policy that ex-LDS students would be subject to.
            (2) BYU has a well-established security infrastructure that ex-LDS students would be subject to.
            (3) Importantly, BYU would still have the Honor Code: which ex-LDS students would be subject to.

            The Honor Code reasonably states, “Those individuals who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are also expected to maintain the same standards of conduct, except church attendance.” The Honor Code also speaks specifically to orderly conduct and “consideration of others in personal behavior.”

            Given the functioning mechanisms of Honor Code enforcement and the above, there is no need to reinvent the wheel: whatever standard applies to LDS students with respect to critical speech, also applies to non-LDS students (which category will soon recognize, if our reform wins the day, ex-LDS students as well).

            I’m also going to hold you accountable for your negative portrayal of those who leave the LDS faith. (1) You depicted them as “staying at BYU to inflict their views on others”: ‘inflict’ is a negative term, and you have no basis for concluding about the intentions of ex-Mormons who would choose to stay at BYU. (2) You equated our request to change honor code language with claiming a right to drag others away from the church, which represents at best a gross misunderstanding. (3) You chose the term “apostates”, which has a strongly negative connotation in LDS conversation.

            None of these three is consistent with your claim to support religious freedom, nor do they reflect the tolerance expected of Latter-day Saints and reiterated as recently as last year, in President Uchtdorf’s important “Come, Join With Us” address. In his talk, which didn’t use the term “apostate” even once, he taught:

            “In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.”

            Rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes about those who leave the LDS faith, President Uchtdorf chooses to depict them as honest seekers of truth. He compares them to Joseph Smith, and affirms their sincerity by describing their worship choices as the results of the dictates of their consciences. I find his an example worth imitating, because it passes the Golden Rule- in this case, that if you want others to assume the best about you, assume the best about them. That- is what President Uchtdorf has done, and very publicly.

  • The only valid fear that I have read about this, is that going as a LDS member your tuition has been subsidized by going to BYU, I understand that you are saying that they should just raise your tuition and change it to a non LDS rate, but that still does not address that you went to school on a subsidized rate for however long you went to school. Now how do they solve that, do they back charge your for the years that you went to school, and make up the difference, I don’t know, but I do agree that their needs to be a change to their policy.

  • Whatever happened to academic discourse?

    And, what about those students that were born into LDS homes. Those with parents, and grandparents that have been lifelong members of the church. Those students that decide later, when they’ve had the opportunity to evaluate the religion for themselves, that they no longer wish to continue under the banner. Should they be penalized because they want to practice freedom of religion?

    If the church is true, the only true church, they should encourage debate amongst the student body. In fact they should welcome it. What do they have to lose?

    Why allow nonLDS members at BYU? Would it be to convert them?

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