Why do you support the FreeBYU movement?
I support the FreeBYU movement because I believe that religious freedom should be available to everyone, especially to those in an academic environment. As the Honor Code is currently structured, religious freedom is unavailable to the 98 percent of campus that identifies as Mormon. As someone who went through a faith crisis while attending BYU, I don’t want anyone else to go through the depression and anxiety that I faced while losing my faith at BYU due to the discriminatory policy in the Honor Code denying religious freedom to Mormon students.
Why did you choose to attend BYU?
I chose to attend BYU because I loved the Mormon Church. I was a true believer and I structured my whole life around LDS teachings. I graduated high school at the top of my class and scored in the top 99 percent on the ACT. I could’ve gone to almost any university I wanted, yet I still chose BYU because I wanted to support my church. By choosing BYU, I knew I would be able to get an excellent education (which I did) all while being immersed in a spiritually uplifting environment. When I was accepted to BYU and awarded one of their top scholarships, I thought everything was perfect. I knew BYU would set me up for future success in both my secular and religious life. I didn’t even apply to any other universities and I ended up doing both my bachelor and master’s degree at BYU.
What do you love about BYU?
I love that BYU provides students with a quality education at an unbeatable price. Investing in students is one of the things I care deeply about, and providing affordable education should be a priority for the future of our nation. Many of the programs at BYU are world-class, and the university does a great job at preparing their students to succeed in the workforce or go on to top-tier graduate schools.
I love the sports programs. I love the frequent opportunities for students to get together in clubs, intramural sports, and ward activities. I love that BYU is nestled against the mountains. I love that I met my wife there. I love the Information Systems department in the Marriott School of Business. I love the caliber of classmates and faculty that I worked with each and every day. I love the friends I made and the experiences I had. I love that BYU prepared me to succeed in the business world. There are so many great things about BYU that I still love and will always cherish despite the fact that BYU will never recognize any of my achievements regardless of how much I accomplish simply because I have left my childhood faith.
Why do you feel that BYU should allow LDS students to pursue their personal beliefs?
Most students who come to BYU never think that they’ll leave their Mormon faith. But college is a time to challenge pre-existing notions and to learn and grow. It’s a time to learn about the world, develop critical thinking skills, and learn who you really are. For some students, this journey includes a change in their religious belief. It is not fair to threaten students with expulsion and withhold their transcripts indefinitely for honestly changing their religious beliefs.
What led you to change your beliefs?
Seven months before graduation I began to study the history of the Mormon Church. I wanted to learn about the lives of the prophets and apostles so that I could become the best Mormon I could be. But as I looked into the history of the LDS Church, I did not like what I found. Instead of rejecting the uncomfortable things I learned as “Anti-Mormon lies”, I dug deeper until I found primary sources that confirmed everything I was learning was true. Because of this search, I realized I had been lied to my entire life about important information regarding the historical foundation of Mormonism. The more I read, the worse it got.
I began to search the rest of Christianity, hoping to find the truth. I studied its historical foundations and realized it all suffered from the same problems I found with Mormonism. I then turned to psychology to see why people believe what they believe. Because of all my studying, I eventually became an atheist. The seeds of my atheism were sown way back on my mission when a Catholic girl told me that she had a testimony that the Catholic Church is God’s one true church. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because I knew she must be mistaken (due to my own testimony of Mormonism). Years later I realized that so many people outside of Mormonism sincerely believe that their religion is God’s one truth, and they all felt it with the same fervor and honesty that I did. After that realization, I couldn’t trust feelings as an indicator of truth any longer. Rather, I had to follow where the evidence took me.
How has BYU’s faith policy affected you?
As an unbeliever, my last seven months at BYU were absolute hell. Along with my faith change, I became more politically liberal as well. This meant that many of the things I heard at school each day directly conflicted with my personal beliefs. Many students and faculty at BYU assume that what they believe (both religiously and politically) is the absolute truth and that no other view can be valid. Any time I spoke up to present an alternate point of view, I was met with immediate opposition. Because of this, I felt unable to share my opinions. Comments making fun of liberals, progressives, or anyone who didn’t fit the conservative, white, middle-class Mormon mold were nonchalantly tossed around and I could say nothing to defend myself without the risk of exposing myself as a non-believer. I had to hide who I was to all my friends, family, and classmates or risk losing 6 years of academic progress by being expelled for shedding my Mormon faith.
Implementing a change in policy to bring religious freedom to BYU is sorely needed. The situation as it currently stands is discriminatory and, to put it frankly, hypocritical. The LDS Church consistently asks others for religious tolerance, but refuses to give it to its own members. This change would bring greater diversity to BYU, allow for students to be true to themselves, and boost the school’s reputation and credibility.