American Bar Association Investigating BYU Law’s Sex, Religious, and Sexual Orientation Discrimination


21 Jan 2016 — Today, FreeBYU received confirmation from the American Bar Association (ABA) that the ABA sent a formal response request to BYU Law regarding FreeBYU’s complaint alleging sex, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination at the school. The ABA only issues such requests when its Section of Legal Education “determines that the complaint may raise possible compliance issues.”
ABA accreditation standards protect students and faculty at accredited law schools from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and sexual orientation. BYU Law subjects students and faculty to the BYU Honor Code, under which LDS students who change their faith are dismissed, terminated from on-campus employment, and evicted from university-contracted housing: severe impositions on their protected religious freedom. Under the BYU Honor Code, law students and faculty are also subject to dismissal for expressing doubt in LDS teachings, undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, publishing on controversial subjects, and holding hands with or marrying a same-sex partner. All these policies violate ABA accreditation standards.

In keeping with published procedure, FreeBYU first raised these complaints with BYU Law directly, an event reported on by KUTV 2News on 1 June 2015. Later that month, BYU Law decided to take no action.

The ABA’s action follows closely on the heels of a petition, signed by over 2,700 BYU students, alumni, and allies, that FreeBYU delivered in mid-December 2015 to BYU President Kevin Worthen, LDS Church Education Commissioner Paul Johnson, and the BYU Honor Code Office. The petition asked BYU to honor the religious freedom of its students by allowing LDS students to pay the non-member tuition rate when they change affiliation, rather than face expulsion, eviction, and termination (known as BYU’s “disaffiliation policy”). This reform would restore the policy that existed before 1993, when LDS students who left the Church were simply treated as other non-member students. The disaffiliation policy remains unchanged.

FreeBYU’s Complaint also referenced the widely-reported 5 October 2015 public action of prominent religion scholar Mark Juergensmeyer, who boycotted BYU Law’s on-campus religious freedom conference in protest against BYU’s disaffiliation policy. The next step in the Complaint process is for the ABA to review BYU Law’s response and provide FreeBYU with an update.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared that the freedom to change one’s religious affiliation is a “fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people.” Its Article of Faith affirms allowing “all men the… privilege [to] worship how, where, or what they may” (1:11). BYU is notably active in promoting religious freedom throughout the world through annual conferences and symposiums dedicated to the subject, and its sponsoring institution has called upon people everywhere to “defend religious freedom.”

Through its activism, FreeBYU is answering that call by defending the religious freedom of LDS students at and applicants to BYU and other higher education institutions in the Church Educational System. If you’d like to volunteer with us, please get in touch at pr@freebyu.org.

-Brad Levin, FreeBYU Director

Press attention includes:

  1. Above The Law: Is Homophobia Going To Cost This Law School Its Accreditation?
  2. Provo Herald: BYU law school being investigated for possible discrimination
  3. Religion News Service: Bar association looks into discrimination complaint at BYU law school
  4. National Law Journal: Treatment of Ex-Mormons and Gays Spurs Complaint Against BYU
  5. Associated Press: Accreditors investigating BYU law school due to LGBT policies
  6. The College Fix: Expelling students in gay relationships could cost BYU law school its accreditation
  7. Law Street: Claims of Discrimination at BYU Law May Spark ABA Involvement
  8. Good4Utah: American Bar Association Conducting “Inquiry” into BYU’s Law School Accreditation
  9. The Cultural Hall Podcast: Free BYU – Law School Investigation
  10. Fox 13: below
  11. Salt Lake Tribune: below

Fox 13 reported on this event.

BYU law school under investigation for possible discrimination

PROVO, Utah — An investigation is underway into Brigham Young University’s law school for possible discrimination.

The American Bar Association is looking at the school’s standards of expelling gay and former Mormon students.

The honor code at BYU states if a student is of a different faith they can attend the school and later become Mormon. But if a student is Mormon and wants to change their faith they can be expelled.

A group called FreeBYU says it’s time for that to change the policy.

“There’s a lot of students currently at BYU who hide their faith changes because they have to if they want to graduate,” said Caleb Chamberlain Founder of FreeBYU and a BYU Alumnus.

“Part of the way through my master’s thesis I was at risk of not being able to graduate because I was undergoing a faith transition,” Chamberlain said, who graduated in electrical engineering.

A year after graduating, Chamberlain took his name off church records and then founded FreeBYU, which pushes for LDS students who lose or change their faith to finish their degree.

“Our goal is to help influence change,” Chamberlain said.

Last December almost 3,000 people signed a petition claiming BYU’s law school violates the American Bar Association’s nondiscrimination guidelines by forcing LGBT members and those questioning their faith to hide that or face expulsion.

“If you’re at a university you’ve invested two years or more of education and time there and you want to explore your faith honestly the problem is if you answer the questions in the way you don’t agree with you get expelled,” Chamberlain said.

BYU released this statement to FOX13 saying, “The law school received a request for information from the ABA a couple months ago and provided the ABA the information requested we have been accredited by the ABA since 1974 and are confident that we continue to meet ABA standards.”

“It turns out accreditation is not a religious right so if they insist on not obeying the rules that any other accredited institution has to follow should they maintain their accreditation?” Chamberlain questioned.

According to the ABA’s website they’ll send an investigator to see if the school is compliant then pass the results onto an accrediting committee.

 

The Salt Lake Tribune also published an article about the event.

National bar group looking into discrimination claim at BYU law school

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