‘FreeBYU’ pushes for policy change on leaving LDS church while attending BYU

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PROVO, Utah -- The majority of the students walking around campus at Brigham Young University are members of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are some who belong to other religions, and even a few who are lying about theirs altogether.

“I really was afraid,” said Zach, who is a BYU student.

The college senior asked that FOX 13 News not reveal his identity, due to fear of expulsion from the school--which is a private university owned by the LDS Church.

A year ago, Zach converted from Mormonism to Islam, a desire that began during his mission in East Asia.

“That really was the closest to God I felt in my life,” Zach said. “I mean, that was the most spiritual experience I had.”

But the change of heart and religion is a violation of the school’s Honor Code, since Zach was LDS when he enrolled.

University policy states that “excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation” from the church will result in a loss of good Honor Code standing within the school.

“Imagine being halfway through the semester, spending hours and hours in classes and being kicked out in the middle of the semester, you lose all your work,” Zach said.

The concerns prompted two BYU alumni to try to change the policy by creating the organization, FreeBYU.

“We think that BYU would be a much more effective advocate for religious freedom if it was allowing all of its students to enjoy that privilege,” said group co-founder, Ryan Bowcutt.

He and his partners sent a letter to LDS President Thomas Monson, who sits as chairman of the school’s board of trustees, asking that the code be changed.

“Even if that idea has some merit the policy can be improved; there is no reason it has to stay the same way,” said co-founder Caleb Chamberlain.

However, the school stood by its rules Thursday.

In a statement to FOX 13 News, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said: “Students who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have not made promises and commitments that a member of the LDS church has. A member of the LDS church who decides to leave, distances themselves from those promises and commitments.”

While the rule may not apply to the majority of students here, Zach feels it’s excluding a minority he belongs to.

“We’re living these double lives and it’s not an easy thing,” he said. “They would feel safe here. They would feel accepted here, not have to worry.”

FreeBYU plans to continue its efforts until there is a change.


  • bob

    Can I arbitrarily excuse myself from contracts too? I’d like to stop making my mortgage payment but still keep my house, please. Because I’m special like that.

    • Chris Hillman

      That is a spectacularly ignorant comparison. Allowing non-LDS students, but not formerly-LDS students is restricting religeous freedom. Why should being born in the church and leaving disqualify you from being able to attend? Because they decided to get baptized when they were 8?

    • JebusJuice

      Yes you can. If you find out your mortgage lender lied, cheated, and stole to get you to sign the contract, you can get out of it. Morally and legally. That’s exactly what is happening to the students. They are finding out the Church to whom they had made these promises is not what they were told. Phones

  • Common sense

    You DO NOT have to be LDS to attend BYU..Quit trying to cause trouble and quit pouting..Grow up.. Be an Islamist if that is where your heart is and OWN IT!

    • Chris Hillman

      I don’t think you understand the requirements for the ecclesiastical endorsement at BYU. If you leave the LDS church you get kicked out of school and can’t even transfer your credits to a new school.

  • Tom

    BYU is heavily subsidized by the LDS Church. When a non-member is admitted to BYU, their tuition is higher since they do not pay tithes to the church which supports BYU indirectly. I would tell Zach he needs to reapply as a non-member.

    • Jose Smith

      Tom – BYU does not admit former mormons, even at higher tuition. That’s the change FreeBYU is asking for: treat ex-mormons exactly like never-mormons. This isn’t about tuition, it’s about being expelled.

    • Allan

      You don’t get to reapply. You are kicked out, and records placed on hold meaning all your invested time is no longer accessible, or transferable to other Universities. They rob you of your life’s work. You lose it all.

      • Hal

        “Robbing” is a pretty strong word. “Robbing” means to take unlawfully. This is not robbing. This is about BYU following through with the terms of a contract which is very lawful.

  • Duff Olson

    Weren’t there previous provisions made for students of other religions as long as they committed to all BYU standards and bylaws, for example a catholic quarterback. Other than that, I think BYU needs to ensure the integrity of the school standards

    • bob

      BYU has never required that students be Mormons. The real issue is that Mormons get cheaper tuition because the school is subsidized by tithing money. He’s just concerned he won’t get the cheap tuition.

      Clearly he’s not serious about being a Mormon OR a Muslim. He’s only interested as long as it doesn’t cost him anything.

      • Jose Smith

        You’re partially right Bob. BYU admits non-mormons, but does not admit former mormons. You’re permitted to join the LDS church while there, but not to leave it. FreeBYU is asking for former mormons to be treated as non-mormons – including paying the higher tuition. This news article doesn’t really explain that, but other coverage (Salt Lake Trib) has.

  • mrnirom1

    Rules are rules. If you don’t like the rules.. then don’t sign the papers agreeing to the rules. I can see not wanting the wolves back into the flock.

    • Teancum Teacup

      Just because a rule exists doesn’t mean it can’t be changed and improved. I see no logical reason why a current LDS student shouldn’t be able to change their status to non-LDS and pay full price tuition.

      Preach what you teach. If BYU is a religious freedom advocate, then they should grant current LDS students the opportunity to worship as they please and allow them to live authenticate lives.

      • mrnirom1

        I am so tired of the minority changing the rules to fit themselves. Keep the rules as they are! This is not a public school and therefore not required to fall in line with the minority. It is a smart move on BYU’s part to have these rules as they are.

      • Teancum Teacup

        “I am so tired of the minority changing the rules to fit themselves.”
        Ok. I don’t see how this rule change would negatively affect the majority of LDS students. But please feel free to enlighten me.

        “Keep the rules as they are! This is not a public school and therefore not required to fall in line with the minority.
        You’re correct they are a private school and can do as they please. This is not a matter of legality but ethics.

        “It is a smart move on BYU’s part to have these rules as they are.”
        Actually I think it’s a great move for BYU as it would align with their current stance on promoting religious freedom.

    • Noah

      most people dont plan to leave mormonism. this change of believe usually happens unexpectedly, leaving students who are now in the middle of their studies to decide between staying true to themselves and forsaking their time/money spent on their studies or lie about what they believe until they graduate. the choice is not easy, but its something no one should face.

      • Brad Levin

        Agreed, Noah.

        I have yet to meet an LDS BYU student who intended to leave the faith when they first applied. I see little benefit from intimidating those whose religious consciences change during their tenure at the school, to hide in the closet about their change in faith.

        We cannot be true to our commitment to “allowing all men the same privilege, let them worship how where or what they may” while simultaneously expelling, terminating, and evicting those who once worshiped with us, but now desire to worship differently. For most of these students, they did not choose their change in religious conscience, any more than investigators whose hearts change when they hear the missionaries’ message. The only decision they have is whether or not to make public what is in their hearts- and LDS statements on religious freedom make it clear our interest in honoring those public expressions, rather than burdening them.

  • Alec

    To the people who find kicking ex-LDS members out of BYU justified, I would suggest that you remember on how the LDS church was organized. The early Latter Day Saints were persecuted by many other religious groups due to being different than what was considered “normal religious beliefs.” Many who left their old faiths, were cast out from the people they previously attended church with. The early members of the LDS church only wanted to live with religious freedom around their old friends. They wanted respect and acceptance for their new religious beliefs. This was over 200 years ago and now some members are reversing this role casting out those who are looking for a different religious way of life. Yes this is a private school, and it is also a religious school with a belief in Jesus Christ and Christ would frown at the lack of sympathy and love shown to those who wish to find happiness. Apparently for some, you must have also forgotten the what you believe in, because according to the 11th Article of Faith it states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This is not excluding BYU. This is your churches beliefs and if still have your mind set on kicking out students who do not believe in church doctrine, then you should be ashamed of yourself for being a hypocrite because obviously you don’t either. I am not a member of the LDS church and I love being around people regardless of religion, and it pains me to see people close their hearts to those wanting to find religious peace. After all that is how the LDS church started, people trying to find that peace and acceptance.

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