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How BYU and the LDS Church view religious freedom

Religious freedom is a fundamental tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Church’s 11th Article of Faith states,

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. – (emphasis added.  The 11th Article of Faith http://mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith)

The Church recently reaffirmed its commitment to religious freedom in a September 2013 press release:

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people… It is the right to think, express and act upon what you deeply believe, according to the dictates of conscience… Religious freedom protects the rights of all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, whether religious or not… Because of their teachings and history, Latter-day Saints have a special commitment to religious freedom… For nearly 200 years Mormon leaders have taught the importance of religious freedom for everyone… Neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced… Religious freedom is as much a duty as it is a right – (Published on http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/official-statement/religious-freedom by the LDS Church in September, 2013.  Retrieved 11/17/2013.  Emphasis added)

Not surprisingly, BYU’s interest in religious freedom closely mirrors that of the LDS Church.  For the past decade, for example, BYU’s International Center for Law and Religious Studies has hosted a yearly symposium to “discuss principles of religious liberty and to explore mechanisms to better implement these principles” (Visit the symposium’s website here).  BYU has to-date hosted over 900 visitors representing 120 countries worldwide.

It is fair to say the BYU has taken an active role in promoting religious freedom around the globe.

BYU’s policy for those who change their faith

Under BYU’s existing policies, LDS students who change their personal beliefs about God are expelled from school, evicted from their homes, and fired from their jobs¹. The following diagram illustrates how this typically works:

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How it Works – BYU’s policy for LDS students who change their faith. Diagram provided by Brad Carmack.

 

BYU belief policies are outlined in the Honor Code, a document that sets standards for expected moral and social behavior for those affiliated with the school.  The Honor Code states,

Students must be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. The term “good Honor Code standing” means that a student’s conduct is consistent with the Honor Code and the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in 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.  (emphasis added, original retrieved here on 11/16/2013)

In other words, LDS students who choose to pursue other faiths lose their good Honor Code standing, and can no longer continue enrollment or graduate from BYU.  This is true regardless of whether Honor Code moral standards are being followed in every other way.  As described above, disaffiliation (or removal of a student’s name from Church records) automatically results in dismissal of the student.  Changing personal beliefs without removing one’s name from records does not automatically result in dismissal.

However, another requirement of the Honor Code is that students receive a “Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement.”  LDS students receive the endorsement from the bishop of the ward in which they live and where their membership records are kept.  From the published Honor Code,

A student’s endorsement may be withdrawn at any time if the ecclesiastical leader determines that the student is no longer eligible for the endorsement… Students without a current endorsement are not in good Honor Code standing and must discontinue enrollment. Students who are not in good Honor Code standing are not eligible for graduation, even if they have otherwise completed all necessary coursework.

The Honor Code does not establish specific guidelines to govern a bishop’s decision regarding endorsements, but the high-level requirement is outlined as follows:

LDS students must fulfill their duty in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attend Church meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church on and off campus.

Students who actively pursue their faith in ways that aren’t sanctioned by the LDS Church are generally not seen as “[fulfilling] their duty to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” and in fact many students have lost their endorsements for simply changing their beliefs about God.  Furthermore, LDS students are required to attend LDS worship services regardless of what their current beliefs may be.

The following is an excerpt from the message sent to LDS students who have had their ecclesiastical endorsement withdrawn for changing their faith, or for any other Honor Code violation:

Dear student,
Bishop __ has informed the Honor Code Office that your ecclesiastical endorsement has been withdrawn. Since university policy requires all students to have a current endorsement, we have placed a hold on your registration, graduation, and diploma until you are able to qualify for a new one. Effective immediately, you are no longer eligible to attend daytime or evening classes, to register for other courses, to graduate from BYU, to work for the university, or to reside in BYU contract housing. You cannot enroll in or be enrolled in any BYU course that could apply to graduation, including but not limited to Independent Study courses, until you are returned to good standing. Please note that you may not represent the university or participate in any university programs such as Study Abroad, academic internships, performing groups, etc. A hold has been placed on your record which will prevent you from being considered for admission to any Church Educational System school until you are returned to good Honor Code standing. Good Honor Code standing includes a valid, current ecclesiastical endorsement… (Retrieved from here on 11/18/2013)

Thus, the consequences for pursuing personal religious beliefs includes not only expulsion from school, but also eviction from housing and loss of employment (for students with on-campus jobs).  Note that all single undergraduate students are required to live in BYU contract housing unless a prior exception has been granted.  Eviction is therefore a near certainty for any LDS student who changes his beliefs.

While some have suggested that BYU’s belief policy isn’t a problem because students can simply reapply as nonmembers or get an endorsement from the BYU chaplain, the Honor Code clearly states that “Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement.”  Former LDS students are the only group singled-out in the Honor Code as being ineligible for an ecclesiastical endorsement from any source, LDS or non-LDS.  Even if in rare cases exceptions are granted, the damage caused by expelling a student mid-semester, terminating his employment, and evicting him from his apartment can seem drastic and unnecessary.

For these reasons, students who desire to change their faith often do so secretly, maintaining appearances if they do not want lose their school, their housing, and their jobs.

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¹ The latter applies to students with on-campus jobs.

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