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