Professor cancels speech at BYU, says school limits religious freedom of LDS students

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

PROVO, Utah -- A California professor canceled his speech at Brigham Young University after learning about a school policy he believes violates religious freedom.

"The whole point of an academic community is to be a bastion of free thought: That's why we have universities," said Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of global studies and sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, Juergensmeyer was scheduled to speak at BYU for the International Law and Religion Symposium. One of many panelists, Juergensmeyer was to discuss how violence has impacted freedom of religion in parts of the world. But he changed his mind over the weekend.

Saturday, Juergensmeyer received an email from the group, FreeBYU. The organization, composed of students and alumni, sent all the speakers for the event a notice about the university's policy regarding Mormons who leave the faith. While students are welcome to convert to Mormonism, those who enroll as members of the LDS Church face expulsion if they choose to leave it.

"This is not about what you do," explained Juergensmeyer. "It's about what you think, about what you believe, and that seems to me that is a real affront to academic freedom."

In an email to the university staff on Sunday, Juergensmeyer explained why he would no longer be attending the event.

He wrote, "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."

BYU Senior Arthur Castleton feels the same.

"It's validating to know that I'm not the only person who thinks that this is an issue," Castleton said.

Castleton has worked with FreeBYU over the last few years. He said many students, including himself, have questioned their faith while at school, however, they live in fear of expulsion if they express their concerns.

"Of course it's legal for BYU to expel students based on their beliefs," said Castleton. "But the question is, is it moral for them to do so?”

In response to Juergensmeyer's concerns, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins released the following statement:

"Higher Education in the United States is made up of a diverse collection of colleges and universities with distinct and unique missions. Institutional diversity is highly valued in American higher education and is protected by federal law. BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution.

Prior to entering BYU, all students agree to uphold the BYU Honor Code. BYU’s website pertaining to the honor code explicitly states the principles students are expected to follow. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this includes following the values and standards of their religion. Because of covenants and commitments members of the LDS Church have made, they can no longer remain in good honor code standing if they choose to formally disaffiliate from the LDS Church."

All students must be in good honor code standing to graduate, to receive a diploma, and to have the degree posted. All of this is explained on BYU’s website and in the application process for admission to the university."

29 comments

  • Hyrum_Justice

    Finally! Someone that doesn’t need big business (Mormonism) to tell him what to do.
    Thank you for standing up for what others believe.

    • The Real Robert

      Typical liberal scavenger response. Your right it is big business in living, surviving, helping others, You should take the time to really understand where most of the investments and capital gain the church makes outside the non profit status. Do you even realize how much the church itself gives to charity and assistance. Many of these so called mormon businesses are not even owned by the church, but since the owner is LDS it must mean the church owns it. Simply, they are honest working members of the faith who happen to own businesses and some very successful. However there are those who believe mormons are not allowed to create business or capitalism or jobs. The church manages finances most likely better than any other organization or business in the world. Nothing is financed. Everything is paid in full, including Temples, Churches and other businesses.

  • Anotherbob

    Good for him, if you leave the church you are shunned and treated like a subhuman by its hypocritical members. One point though, why leave the church and face expulsion in the first place? Do you have any idea how large a group there is of BYU students just “faking it till I graduate”? They go to church and put on a show for LDS faith around them but secretly are doing all kinds of “naughty” stuff when nobody is looking lol.

    • Brian Kohrman

      Yes, there are people who are OK with living a double life so they can finish their degree. What about a person who, after a sincere, honest search for truth has a change of beliefs? This does happen at BYU. Often, these people would be perfectly willing to live by all Honor Code rules so they can keep attending. Instead, they are forced to either participate in a religion they do not agree with or lose their education. Such people are forced to choose between their conscience and their education.

      In addition, it’s NOT a simple matter of leaving BYU and finishing somewhere else. Students who change religions may have their transcripts withheld. They can’t even keep the credits they’ve already earned. This is unnecessary and unreasonable.

  • Paul Anderson Sr.

    Two things. BYU is a private college, is it not? Versus a public or state college (university). Those who matriculate are fully aware of the rules. Or should be.
    Those people signed on the dotted line and agreed to the rules. Now they’re not happy with those rules and in doing what modernists do these days, they protest what they agreed to. They were not forced to sign. Go someplace else if you don’t like it now.

    • Brad

      Well college is a time of change and discovery. Did you stay the exact same during college? I know I’ve changed, I didn’t read contracts when I first got into college or fully understand the implications they would have on my life. And how many converts had a change of mind to change to the mormon religion? Ask them how it feels to leave their religion, why they converted, or how many family members disowned them. I know the last happens, because it happened to my grandma and her mother. Their last words were “I hate you”, words they will never be able to take back.

  • Kirsten

    BYU is a private church university who’s members supplement tuition to keep higher education more attainable. There are thousands of strong and faithful, tithe paying members who don’t get into BYU. So for students who were accepted and signed the honor code (which is their choice in attending BYU) to turn around and demand tithe payers to continue paying their education when they are promoting anti rhetoric is absurd. There are plenty of non members who attend and graduate without joining the church but respect the institution helping them progress in life. It is not about joining another church, it’s about spreading anti beliefs and propaganda while benefiting from those you are condemning. Let those who do have faith and a desire to follow the honor code attend, there are plenty of other universities for you to choose from.

    • Brian Kohrman

      Most former LDS students at BYU would be willing to pay the non-LDS tuition rate, but they don’t have that option. Instead, they are forced to leave, and may even lose all of their earned credits.

      • Kirsten

        The non LDS rate is also reduced thanks to tithe payers. If they have a fundamental issue with the religion it’s amazing they want to continue. The issue isn’t simply choosing another religion it’s the honor code violations that got them in trouble.

    • Brian Kohrman

      Hi, Kirsten,
      It is quite possible to change religious beliefs without changing moral behaviors. A former-LDS BYU student will be expelled, even if they obey all Honor Code rules.

  • John Zimmerman

    I cannot fathom how a professor of religion can interpret standards at a religious school funded by a religious organization are a violation of religious liberty. Each religion sets its standards, including those which govern what its members have a right to do as members, the violation of which can result in excommunication, and as long as the standards are not in violation of God-given, i.e. constitutional rights, no one’s rights are violated. Thus freedoms of a religion’s members are determined by each religion. This professor is not aware of this basic tenant of religious freedom and this lack of awareness has resulted in his misunderstanding that there are some universal standards of religious freedom that have been violated. In fact his attempt to classify BYU’s religious standards regarding freedoms according to his personal ideal of religious freedom is doing precisely what he accuses BYU of – denying religious freedom.

    • Brian Kohrman

      Yes, BYU has the right to do this. I agree with Arther Castleton, though. It’s not moral or ethical. They are using coercion to enforce belief. This is especially true if affected students can’t transfer their earned credits to another institution. BYU can effectively wipe out a student’s entire education- even if they are within months from graduation- simply for changing their religious beliefs.

      • John Zimmerman

        The education of students is funded mostly by LDS church members. Thus the benefit of these funds is intended for those who are LDS Church members, many of whom are turned away because the school cannot educate an unlimited number. Before attending the consequences of trying to have the benefits but not remain loyal are made known.

    • Brian Kohrman

      I understand that BYU does not want to offer subsidies to former LDS students, since those funds come from church tithing. That is reasonable. However, it is unnecessarily cruel to prevent students from transferring their credits to another institution through holds on transcripts or negative marks on academic records. Should a student be so harshly punished for a sincere change in religious belief? This is the part that seems like unfair coercion.

      • Brian Kohrman

        Couldn’t the former LDS student simply be asked to leave, but be able to take their credits to a new university? That seems like a reasonable compromise, doesn’t it?

  • Monica

    I don’t think this professor can talk about religious freedom since he intends to change established rules in a religious private school! Nobody is going to change the rules in his home punishing him with no visiting his home because of his rules! Common sense!

    • Brad

      So a person who can’t change their beliefs in the middle of their life is religious freedom? I’d love to hear the missionaries start with that line.

      • ANOTHERBOB

        Students at BYU know what the rules are before they ever enter their first class. They are free to make choices but as you should know they aren’t free from the consequences of those choices.

  • Brandon

    I’m sure many of these students would be happy to change schools if the cost to switch weren’t so high. Personal costs to the student such as time, money, academic credit that doesnt transfer, and lost wages by delayed entryvto the workforce are real and significant. Instead, these students want to remain agreeing to bound by the same honor code standards as other nonmember students.

    BYU can hardly say the students were fully informed about their religion’s covenants and beliefs when they signed the honor code agreement. By not informing the students of material details as to secret temple ceremonies and covenants, seer stones in a hat, and deceitful polygamous behavior of the religion’s founder(s) and leaders, BYU made it impossible for the students to give an informed consent to such religious covenants that make up the basis of Carri Jenkins’s justification for the BYU policy that discriminates against non mormons who happen to become non mormon while at BYU.

    • Brad

      Uvu isn’t too bad, I paid $2200 for my semester for 9 credits and it’s about 2400 for 12 credits. What costs an arm and a leg is having to retake all the classes that are not accepted. As for time, well you can’t put a price on that.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      It’s BYU that needs religious freedom, the freedom to discriminate. Those who don’t like it are free to leave.

      “Religious freedom” is not turning every religious school into a secular one. Defeats the whole purpose, duh.

    • Brad

      Doesn’t make it right, college you have a million things to worry about. Being kicked out of your school for finding a new belief, or loss of one should not be one. I mean just imagine losing your job, home, and everything you’ve worked on for the last 4 years for something like changing who you vote for.

      • HYRUM_JUSTICE

        It’s like joining the military Brad and then deciding you don’t like to wear a uniform. Don’t worry Brad, BYU won’t kick you out if you vote for Mrs. Bill Clinton. Quit your blubbering and don’t worry about it. You don’t attend BYU and so you have no dog in the fight.

  • Paul

    I love how someone claims a student is denied his transcript and several others here believe it. Pay $2 at the administrative building and they hand you a transcript.

Comments are closed.