Prominent Scholar Boycotts BYU Law’s Annual Religious Freedom Conference in Protest Over BYU’s Religious Discrimination

freedom for all

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

Associate Director,

International Center for Law and Religion Studies

Brigham Young University


Dear Elizabeth:


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.



Mark Juergensmeyer

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.”


Elder Ronald A. Rasband


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.

If our movement resonates with you, please sign our petition, submit your profile of support at, and email to volunteer.


Contact person: Caleb Chamberlain





53 thoughts on “Prominent Scholar Boycotts BYU Law’s Annual Religious Freedom Conference in Protest Over BYU’s Religious Discrimination

  • I don’t see how this would be an issue–as long as they are keeping with the standards that BYU sets out up-front.

    • Lauren, you’d think that would be the case. Unfortunately the university/LDS Church will expel active Mormons attending BYU who choose to leave their faith behind, even if they are following the honor code.

      • That’s the thing… For Mormons attending BYU, your acceptance of the honor code, enrollment and pursuit of a tithing subsidized education includes the idea that you have made a contract to uphold the honor code for all of your education. If you choose to no longer hold up that contract, and disaffiliate with the church, then you BYU is no longer responsible to provide an education according to the terms you were accepted on, which includes the active participation in your church activities for already Mormons. I think the best solution to someone choosing to leave the church while you’re in school, is that you are released from your current semester, and then allowed to reapply as a non-member student and see if you get accepted as a non-member since preference is given to LDS members, and then you could enter into a new contract with the school as a non-member student (pending your acceptance).

        • No;it doesn’t actually work that way. Some have done the very thing you suggest but have been refused summarily — for no other reason than the change of faith (not actual worthiness issues).

    • Exactly. It shouldn’t be an issue.

      I wanted to leave the church while at BYU. I didn’t have any problem obeying the honor code whatsoever. I just didn’t want to participate in the church any more.

    • Unfortunately this is the case. Even at BYU-I. My husband was told he couldn’t get his associates degree because he left the faith even though he continued to live the standards of the church and Honor code. I couldn’t believe it. He dis thr work, paid for tbe classes, but yhat easn’t even considered. What served as a testament to my husband’s character is that he refused to lie in order to get a degree that would have been beneficial for him. They should have been happy to have someone with that much integrity. I hope this policy changes at both BYU and BYUI.

  • It shouldn’t matter because what matters is the Honor Code and behavior not Church membership. But unfortunately it does matter to certain BYU and quite possibly certain Church leaders. It’s part of the reason I chose (in essence refused) not to attend BYU.

  • It was my understanding that a student who leaves Mormonism wilst at BYU would simply be charged the “non-Mormon” tuition rate and given the possibility to continue as long as they still have an ecclesiastical endorsement (even non Mormons have to be endorsed by an ecclesiastical leader) and abide by the honor code.
    Am I incorrect?

    I don’t think a non-Mormon should get the same subsities that Mormons get because the church has decided to use tithing funds from its members for its members- which seems fair but other than tuition rate, nothing should change if the student abides by the honor code.

      • That makes sense to me. The issue of BYU students leaving the church while attending BYU is more about breaking the Honor Code, choosing not to live by the standards they committed to live by, and putting all of the trust the University has in it’s students in jeopardy. It’s just a catch-all rule that is imperfect. BYU isn’t discriminating, it’s just an imperfect part of a solution to a problem they have. BYU is about outstanding academics and moral uprightness. When you leave the church, it doesn’t make you a bad person, but a lot of people who choose to leave would no longer feel the need to obey the honor code and not cheat on tests, occasionally use alcohol, have premarital sex, etc. Even students who do claim to be “mormon: struggle with many of these things, that’s why there are rules about them getting kicked out, too! Bottom line: BYU isn’t perfect but there are valid reasons for the imperfect rule that is in effect.

        • This reminds me of something that happens in the legal world. Just because you sign a contract that asks you to promise to do a series of things does not negate the responsibility of the contract maker to form a legally binding contract. For example you can’t escape legal repercussions of pyramid schemes, ponzy schemes, just because you got all investors to sign a contract agreeing to allow you to commit the fraudulent activity against them. Likewise while BYU is free to create any contract they’d like, it does not negate their responsibility to create a contract that espouses religious freedom.

          To ask students who have a faith crisis mid-way through education to forfeit all their time and money despite them being willing to live the honor code is a direct violation of encouraging an atmosphere conducive to the free exercise of religion.

          The contract BYU has with it’s students is a two way street. BYU asks students to follow a certain set of procedural policies. Which if they do they have the opportunity to receive a degree. If a student fulfills those procedural guidelines BYU is obligated to allow them to pursue said degree. Making religious affiliation be a prerequisite to earn a degree after the fact of initial acceptance breaks that. Because religious affiliation is not a requirement if ecclesiastical endorsement is given. Which in theory should not be based on ones personal faith, but willingness to abide by behavior policy.

          While I understand what you’re saying, many others would probably find your assertion demeaning that a lot of people who leave would no longer feel they need to obey the honor code . Just because someone chooses to leave mormonism does not mean they are going to dive head first into pre-marital sex, alcohol, and especially cheating. We don’t have a monopoly on good, and there are plenty who leave who leave based on disagreements with the faith, but not necessarily the moral code. Cheating is a pretty universal no-no regardless of what faith you belong to. Even any atheist i’ve met believe cheating and being unkind to your fellow man is not appropriate.

      • People aren’t just excommunicated or disfellowshipped for simply not believing. You have to have done something pretty bad for that to happen. I’m thinking those things would definitely be in the honor code, therefore they would have to break the honor code in order to have that happen. It’s the dis affiliation part that they should take out. The other stuff is perfectly reasonable to me!

        • You said yourself, it’s not an ecclesiastical endorsement, it’s a contract. We should call things by their name. And yes, this is what BYU students want to do, pay regular tuition instead of mormon tuition once they leave Mormonism. But this option is not available to them.

        • Not really, this is how I used to think but I was wrong. Some people have been excommunicated just for writing books about the church and poligamy. Now the church has publicly admitted that Joseph smith did practice poligamy and other things. I read abput a woman who was excomunicated for supporting women’s rights several years ago. You can find this information if you research US history.

      • Excommunication and disfellowshipment usually means that there had been breech of the honor code. At the same time they are intended to be a part of the repentance process and are not permanent.

    • Mark,

      That is incorrect. Mormons attending BYU that change their religious affiliation are typically expelled and have holds placed on their transcripts (details may vary in each individual case due to leadership roulette). What you suggest is common sense and would be an acceptable alternative to the current policy. I wonder why compassionate acceptance in matters of spiritual conscience is so threatening to the BYU (and church) administration. My own kids are brainwashed TBMs, but I still have a few years left before they head off to college and if this policy is not changed ASAP I will do everything in my power to steer them to a different university.

    • Isn’t tithing used all over the world in one way or another during times of need?!!! Yup I think so. So why the segregation here? If you are gonna help in one area non-LDS then help all!

    • Sadly you are incorrect. Many doubting Mormon students wish that were the case, and would gladly pay the higher tuition rates, but alas they have to hide their beliefs, and 99% of the student body and faculty don’t give a damn.

    • That would be the RIGHT thing to do. Unfortunately, that is not what the current policy is.
      Thus this current movement to change that policy.

  • As a BYU alum who is strongly opposed to BYU’s policy, I’m thrilled that Elder Rasband has been called as an apostle. I support his statement wholeheartedly! One cannot read his words and not conclude that he would be in favor of changing this policy. If he is not, then his statement is the height of hypocrisy. If the church, as he declares, stands for “freedom of choice and conscience” then BYU’s policy can only be viewed as contrary to that standard. Elder Rasband: Please help the other leaders see that this type of policy is contrary to what Joseph Smith taught and not in line with Christian values and LDS standards. You talk about a “space for everyone to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others”….If there is anywhere such as space should exist it is at the “Lord’s university”. Sadly that space “for everyone” is not found at BYU. LDS students who experience a change of faith are “someone” too! Please Elder Rasband, follow YOUR conscience and help create that space for “good men” (and women) of other denominations including former LDS students.

  • I love this man. Thank you for standing up for an appalling policy. BYU resembles a communist regime when students are not allowed free expression. I’m sure the number of byu students wanting to leave the Mormon faith is small at byu. The college years are years of accademic and personal exploration. BYU should have more faith in their students. How embarrassing to have such an awful policy at byu in this day and age. How can other institutions any regard for an institution that doesn’t allow students and faculty to freely express themselves?

  • Yes, it is true that an LDS student who changes their religious affiliation loses their Honor Code standing and is expelled without any means to transfer their credits. The lack of religious freedom goes even further, however.

    According to the current Honor Code, if an active LDS student voices any belief that their bishop deems to conflict with LDS theology, the bishop can revoke that student’s Honor Code endorsement. Not even believing Mormons are safe from arbitrary thought-enforcement by random members of the community who happen to be your geographical, ecclesiastical leader. Freedom of speech does not exist at BYU.

    • Hi, Greg, can you point me to the part of the Honor Code that discusses this? I’d like to read it first hand.

      • See the Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement section on the the BYU Honor Code page. For current, LDS, BYU students the ecclesiastical endorsement is a meeting with their bishop who conducts a temple recommend interview. They go through a second interview with their stake president. If the student is worthy for a temple recommend, they receive their ecclesiastical endorsement. BYU conflates Honor Code compliance with temple worthiness. The actual words used in the honor code are “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”, but I’d be surprised if any LDS member would say the temple recommend standards are not included in that statement.

        If a BYU bishop or stake president decides that a student’s intellectual views conflict with any of the temple recommend questions, the leader can decide to revoke the endorsement and the student has no avenue for recourse. There are many questions that can be interpreted widely, so a particular bishop may deem a certain idea unacceptable while another bishop might not think anything of it. For example, Bokovoy’s inspired pseudepigrapha theory of the Book of Abraham, support for female ordination, or support for acceptance of gay relationships in the Church.

        The most public example has been Curtis Penfold whose ecclesiastical endorsement was revoked because he published a blog post discussing what he saw assexism in the LDS temple. After being anonymously turned in to the Honor Code office, his stake president deemed that Curtis needed to repent of his views on the temple, God, and spirituality, or he would be disfellowshipped and lose his endorsement.

        • I see. Thanks for those details. That does sound like it’s pretty much up to the individual bishops. That’s a lot of power over a young person’s future.

    • I believe this policy is unjust. I am, however, skeptical that BYU prevents said student from transfering credits. I haven’t found anything in the Honor Code that supports this claim. I believe that as a state accredited university, it would be illegal for them to withold a students credits. Do you have a link that supports your claim? I am truly interested in finding out.

  • Sadly, there are some policies that may be deemed unthoughtful, unkind, hypocritical, or not Christ like (which I believe this one is). However, as long as leaders of the institution recognize the faults of these kinds of policies and work on perfecting them, that’s really all we can ask. Move forward and do what’s right. Nobody is perfect

  • Fyi – Kind of along these same lines… Years ago, I had applied to teach Spanish at Cascade Christian in Puyallup, WA. They were ecstatic with my qualifications–teaching credential from a Washington state university, and several years of teaching experience. While going through the routine intake mtg where they gathered all my info, they were so giddy about me it was cute. Until the final question “Oh, I just need to make note of who your Pastor is.” When I explained, “Oh, it’s Bishop so&so from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The audible gasp and crestfallen look on their face was stunning to say the least. And it was the most swift, awkward, (and only) recinsion of employment I have ever experienced. Disappointing, yes. Wrong? No. They are a private school within their rights to maintain the kind of climate for which their patrons pay big bucks.

  • Just a question – I can see how excommunication or disfellowshipment might result from acts which violate the Honor Code they agreed to. As for disaffiliation, do you really know of a case or cases where someone became a Catholic, a Muslim, or simply no longer followed the LDS faith who was forced to leave BYU for that reason alone? I am not talking about somone who affiliates themselves with organizations which actively seek to disparage the LDS Church and its leaders.

  • Don’t know anyone dropped from the school for converting to non-LDS, but the tuition of non LDS students is not subsidized by the church. However, technically, a converting student would owe additional tuition for the remainder of the semester from the time he converted. From that time on he would have to pay non-LDS tuition. When I was applying to BYU back in the dark ages, LDS students had to have an interview with their Bishop or Branch President. Converting to non-LDS would invalidate the recommendation from the Bishop if that recommendation is still a requirement.

  • Over 50% of applicants are denied entrance to BYU. With so many vying for a place there, I think it’s reasonable for BYU to maintain a standard that supports their religious mission. As a private university, they are within their rights to limit the enrollment of non-members. If some apply under false religious pretense or arrive at another spiritual conviction mid-way, it would skew the tightly held member/non-member ratio necessary to preserve the unique “Zion” atmosphere. Part of the BYU experience is to be able to sit at the feet of LDS diciples when campus shuts down for weekly devotionals. Since religion is such an integral part of the BYU education, those who no longer care about it should give their place up to one of the thousands of others who are vying to go there. And in the spirit of religious equality, I would support any faith institution (Catholic, Muslim, or otherwise) to enforce a similar policy in their private schools if they so chose.

    • “Since religion is such an integral part of the BYU education, those who no longer care about it should give their place up to one of the thousands of others who are vying to go there.”

      That is fine and dandy, yet is punitive when BYU refuses to send official transcripts to the school an ex-member student wishes to transfer to.

    • The issue is that the school may not release transcripts and/or allow classes to be transferred to another institution. After 1-4 years of hard study, how is that remotely fair to the person who had a disconversion yet is willing to abide by the same honor code as those who are non mormon students there?

    • OK, that’s reasonable. Maybe they should be able to determine who is eligible to attend. However, not allowing a student to take their existing credits to a new school is just cruel.

  • There are too many smart and opinionated people in one room here. First of all, if a “Muslim University” expells a student for leaving his religion, that would be a miracle. Descrimination? .. yes, and they have a right to! it’s a MUSLIM UNIVERSITY. Second, the doctrine of the church is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the face of the earth. In other words, leaving the church to join any other one is a wrong decision; they have been deceived. In good conscious, I wouldn’t allow such a student to continue at BYU. Religious freedom has not been violated; they were not forced to attend BYU and they took a spot that could go to someone else who would appreciate the experience. I know this is a hard concept to grasp for anti-LDS people, but IF the church is true, then it’s the correct policy. I see from the nonLDS view that this is violating their religious liberty because you have a different view of other religions. For them, it’s like choosing a favorite color or something that has no right or wrong judgments attached to it.

    • They choose to accept government money from the GI Bill, Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, the Space Grant program, research grants, ROTC, and other programs so no they do NOT have a right to kick out a student for religious reasons any more than they can violate Title IX. Have BYU ditch the public money (and it’s not like the church couldn’t easily afford to), and your argument might have some merit.

      Even if that wasn’t the case it’s pathetic and hypocritical that a student should be punished for not violating the honor code by having the personal integrity to admit they don’t believe anymore.

    • Aaron, do you think that BYU students who change religions should also have their transcripts withheld? Not only can they not continue their degree at BYU, they can’t even transfer their existing credits to another institution. Why is that necessary? Could BYU not simply ask them to leave and continue their education elsewhere?

  • Even though I’ve never been Mormon, things like this are why I’m glad I turned down my acceptance letter from BYU. It’s comparatively cheap and academically great in many areas, but I didn’t want to get saddled with a minimum of three notoriously difficult classes on Mormonism when I could have used them on extra biochem courses. I don’t mind religious credit requirements, but at the very least if students want to they should be allowed to pick only the broader based (and more useful) religious courses. I don’t know of any other university which isn’t focused on theological studies that require anything more specific than generalized outlines of the faith they’re affiliated with.

  • What BYU is saying by withholding transcripts and not allowing transfers and graduations is….
    This is what happens when you break the honor code… Which pretty much has nothing to do with my actions but everything to do with being an active Mormon.
    We are saying to keep your opinions to yourself if you are here or else this happens. We do not want to infect the rest of the population by making it OK by letting these students go quietly. This would set a president that this is ok.
    Therefore religious freedom is not for Mormons only non Mormons where they can actively keep an honor code and not believe.
    So saying you believe in religious freedoms is only a belief that everyone else has the right not Mormons.

  • Yet another example of the ‘dark side’ which permeates the administration of the only ‘true’ church. Shame on BYU and it’s board of governors. Confirms one’s worst fears that ‘free agency’ is conditional and reinforced with an iron fist in a velvet glove.

  • Wow. There is a lot of dissent in these comments that I did not expect. The argument that as long as the honor code is kept, a BYU student should be allowed to leave or stop active participation in the LDS faith is just not a sound position. Someone who dissafilliates with a group (I.e. religion) to which they previously made a commitment or contract cannot expect to abandon the contract and still receive the benefits of such membership. Many of the comments are correct–this is about an honor code, but that code is not confined to external behavior. It’s about keeping a commitment, not just outwardly showing acceptable behavior. Yes, non-member must accept and abide by the honor code without being expected or required to obtain church membership, but let’s be honest, the church expects more from its members, as does any organization of its members.

    Church membership is a serious and, according to doctrine, a sacred and vital thing to possess. One cannot expect to abandon that with no effect. For one to acknowledge the spiritual ramifications of giving up church membership, esp in a church that says salvation depends on it, while arguing the unconstitutionality of temporal ramifications, is silly

    So besides the fact that the church owns BYU and has the right to enforce such a policy on its members, you just cannot separate the honor code from church membership for those who have agreed to that membership.

    I’m speaking from a religious perspective; a religion has every right to do this with its members. Many forget that the church is not here to help people be good, but to make good people better, and that cannot be done by allowing those who have agreed to something decide to back out without any thing happening as a result.

    I really am all ears to anyone who can make a solid case for the other side of this. But if you do so you cannot ignore the religious aspects of this and only argue civil rights. A purely civil rights position is too caught up in defending my right to choose and not be consequenced by someone for my personal beliefs. A purely religious side will say, God is God and his ways trump everything else. Well these are both silly.

    I just wonder (or am frustrated) that so many just don’t like having conditions imposed on them, or why being held to a standard offends so many.

    (if you don’t believe anymore … okay, but does that really mean that a religion cannot enforce their beliefs in their own school? My disbelief does not obligate someone else to continue giving and supporting the rights they gave me in the first place. And certainly does that not automatically make it unconstitutional.)

  • I looked into this a little further. I found that the official policy is that former LDS students will be expelled, but transcripts are NOT withheld. The only negative marks placed on transcripts are for academic suspensions.

    I still disagree with the policy, as I believe it uses coercion to secure belief, but at least the students do have the option of tranfserring to another school.

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