5 Oct 2015 — The Twenty-second Annual International Law and Religion Symposium is underway at the J. Reuben Clark Law School on the Campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The delegates include approximately 90 leading scholars, jurists, and political and civil society leaders from 40 countries.
FreeBYU reached out last week to the speakers at this conference, encouraging them to “take action” to reform BYU’s policy of terminating, evicting, and expelling LDS students who change their faith. One of the confirmed speakers, professor of sociology and global studies and founding director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at UC-Santa Barbara, Mark Juergensmeyer, answered the call. On October 4th, he withdrew from the conference as “an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion.” In his letter to the associate director of BYU Law’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Juergensmeyer wrote:
Prof Elizabeth Clark
International Center for Law and Religion Studies
Brigham Young University
I regret that I will be unable to participate in the Law and Religion Symposium that is being held this week at BYU. It was an honor to be invited to speak at this event, and as you know I made every effort to make room in my schedule to be there on Tuesday. My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion.
Alas I was unaware of this policy until this weekend when it was brought to my attention. I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students. As I understand it, non-Mormons are allowed to enroll in BYU, and they are welcome to convert to the Mormon faith if they wish, but if Mormon students change their religious affiliation they lose their scholarship, their campus housing and jobs, and are expelled from school even if they are months away from graduation.
In making this decision I mean no disrespect to you, the Center with which you are affiliated, or the other participants in this week’s conference. I know that many faculty members at BYU are opposed to this policy and are quietly working to change it. I applaud them, and hope that my decision will be taken as a sign of support for those within BYU who are seeking change. I appreciation your dilemma and admire your persistence.
Again, thanks for the honor of the invitation. I hope that I will be invited back to BYU and will be able to accept some time in the future when this policy restricting religious freedom is lifted.
Professor of Sociology and Global Studies
Founding Director and Fellow
Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies
The withdrawal of a former president of the American Academy of Religion, protesting BYU’s religious discrimination, is reminiscent of the athletes at San Jose State who, in November of 1968, refused to play against BYU because of its racial discrimination.
Some faculty at BYU defended the policy. In response, Dr. Juergensmeyer wrote: “There may be legal acceptance of such discrimination, but it is discrimination all the same, and I suspect that if a university in a Muslim country were to expel a student who wanted to become a Mormon, BYU administrators would regard this as a violation of religious freedom. And they would be right.”
FreeBYU’s mission is to establish fairness for all at BYU. In his devotional address, “Religious Freedom and Fairness for All,” newly-called apostle Ronald A. Rasband taught:
Despite what you may have heard or read over the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom of choice and conscience. Many years ago the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote:
“We believe . . . that all men are created equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative to conscience.”
He later went on to say:
“If . . . I have been willing to die for a “Mormon,”. . . I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of . . . any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.”
So what is the position of the Church on religious freedom? … We believe in creating a space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to as many people as possible. The Church believes in and teaches “fairness for all.”
Earlier this year in a news conference in Salt Lake City, Elder Dallin H. Oaks communicated a similar message:
We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience. We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.
FreeBYU proposes that very thing: allow freedom of conscience for the LDS students and faculty at BYU! When they follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all, if they so choose — honor that sacred choice. Let them stay at BYU and finish out their studies. Treat them as every other non-LDS member of the BYU community: don’t cast them out.
Dr. Juergensmeyer joins a diverse group of faithful Mormons, former Mormons, and never Mormons from numerous religious traditions, who support our mission. Over 1,000 signatories have supported our petition to the BYU Board to honor religious freedom by allowing LDS students to change their faith without being dismissed from their academic programs, terminated from their on-campus jobs, and evicted from their university-contracted housing.
Contact person: Caleb Chamberlain