Don’t free BYU

Michaelsberg Abbey

Michaelsberg Abbey

Brigham Young University requires LDS students who leave the church to withdraw from the university. While some people have lobbied for change, this policy is in the best interest of the students – both those who stay and those who leave – and should stay in place.

This opinion is based on my experience that achievement in academics – as in the arts, sport, and business – is strongly affected by students’ finding motivation in a higher purpose or community greater than themselves. After teaching the first-semester course in my discipline nearly fifty times at more than a half-dozen universities, I have a pretty good sense of what a room full of students can accomplish in a semester. When a student has an urgent personal stake in learning the material, however, and takes responsibility for their own learning, it’s quite possible for them to learn twice as much or more in the same amount of time. It’s one reason I’ve started asking students at the beginning of each semester to think about the communities they are part of and how their education will help them serve those communities.

Finding a higher purpose or a community to serve is not easy, however. Many of the well-prepared and ambitious students I have known see their college education as the next stage in their unfolding personal narrative of continued upward momentum as they take their deserved place in the meritocracy.  That non-transcendent purpose works well enough for them, at least until the upward trajectory starts bending back to earth. Many other students flounder, both in their search for a purpose and in their education.

At BYU, however, the answer to the question of transcendent purpose is almost unique in its clarity. BYU students are gaining an education in order to serve the church in some way. As a master narrative for a college career, it doesn’t always function perfectly, but it serves many students very, very well. One of the striking differences I found in the students I taught at BYU-Idaho compared to other universities is that they largely had a plan and were sticking to it. As a teacher, it was easy to gesture at that greater purpose periodically in order to remind students how a course was relevant to their own motivation, and there were measurable results. For students at a university dedicated to open enrollment, the accomplishments of the students I knew were really quite credible.

So treating church membership as essentially indifferent to BYU students would not only weaken the university’s institutional identity, but also hamper its educational mission. It’s a fundamental mistake to think of BYU as a university to which a superficial gloss of Mormonism has been applied, in the same way that it’s a mistake to think of West Point as just another liberal arts college with ultra-competitive intramural paintball. The transcendent purpose is an intrinsic part of the educational mission, and weakening the institutional narrative weakens the university’s effectiveness. As with any policy change, one has to ask if permitting students who leave the church to stay at BYU would weaken its institutional identity and hamper its mission. In this case, it would.

It is true that not all BYU students are LDS. The church sees value in allowing non-Mormon students who see the church positively and support its values to enroll. Why not allow students who leave the church to remain enrolled like any other non-LDS student? The answer is that as far as the church is concerned, position is not nearly as important as direction. Just like a repentant sinner is cause for celebration while someone drifting off into sin is treated as a catastrophe, a friendly non-member is not the same as a friendly ex-member. Just like the military makes a distinction between “civilians” and “soldiers who don’t bother to show up any more,” there is an important distinction between non-members and apostates. Leaving the church is a strong signal that a student does not support the church’s mission and values, and treating that choice as inconsequential is detrimental to the education of faithful students.

Treating church membership as essentially indifferent would also be detrimental to the education of the unfaithful students, as it lets students avoid taking responsibility for their education. One would be doing no favor to a pacifistic anarchist, for example, by letting him stay at West Point. Transferring to another school is a headache, but it is hardly an insurmountable barrier. About a third of all students nationwide transfer at some point.

Requiring students who apostasize to leave the university, like preferring LDS to non-LDS job applicants, is a form of religious discrimination that can only be justified in the service of a clearly religious mission. If BYU needs additional measures to emphasize its religious mission, there are some additional steps it could take. The university could give all faculty regular roles in the religious life of the university, or require that all class meetings begin with a prayer. (I don’t advocate singing hymns before class; that’s what we do to prepare ourselves for worship. But prayer is what we do to prepare ourselves for serious thought and discussion, including the intellectual work one might find in a university class.)

In short, any proposal to make BYU a more secular institution should be viewed skeptically, as secularization undermines how it performs its academic mission. Secularization has both winners and losers, of course. Secularized monasteries are wonderful things, for example: they can be used for hospitals or libraries or universities or a hundred other things. But they are no good at all at training monks.

106 comments for “Don’t free BYU

  1. If you approached this as “important considerations” I could agree and even applaud. But when you approach it as the definitive argument I am not persuaded and find mostly objections.
    Several issues to consider:
    1. Some balancing of harm to the institution vs harm to the individual? It is not persuasive to make the argument 100% about the institution with only a shrug to the cost of transfer. Taking into account reports that transfers are particularly difficult or have limited transfer of credits when coming from BYU, I have a sense that the harm to the individual ranks pretty high relative to the harm to the institution. In any event, there ought to be some sense of balancing goods or balancing harms.
    2. Unintended consequences. There is anecdotal evidence that current policies result in students staying and hiding their disaffection. To the extent that happens, it harms everybody including the institution.
    3. Broad brush–in effect treating all students who leave the Church as the worst sort of apostate. Is it possible that some of those students would be welcome admits if they applied with a fully disclosed and understood non-LDS status? And that some of those students would choose BYU if they could? (Considering these questions as a matter of independent judgment that should have a bearing on motivation; not as a matter of institutional policy or of cost of transfer.) In my opinion a general rule requires a higher degree of justification than a case-by-case consideration.

  2. I have two degrees from BYU. I respectfully but strongly disagree with this article. It’s important to understand the context, this rule currently requires a student who leaves the LDS faith to be immediately kicked out of school (in the middle of the semester) and at the same time to be fired from their BYU job (if they have one) and evicted from their BYU approved housing. This applies even if the student is otherwise a “model” student who is fully living all aspects of the honor code and qualifies for an ecclesiastical endorsement.

    I think its fair to say that most students who undergo a faith crisis or otherwise leave the Church will also be anxious to leave BYU. I think we would all agree that an apostate who is unwilling to comply with the honor code could be subject to appropriate discipline (including being kicked out of school in appropriate circumstances). However, for a student who wants to finish out the year (or even finish off their degree) and who is willing to “put their head down” and follow the honor code and do everything that non-members attending BYU do (including pay non-LDS tuition), it seems pretty unfair to treat them differently than other non-members. It’s in the best interests of the Church/BYU and the students to make this process as tolerable as possible. is the site with the best information on this.

    I will say that in my time at BYU I was never aware of this policy. I found out about it a few years ago. It personally has been much more difficult for me to hear BYU/Church talk about the need for more religious freedom after I became aware of this policy that flies in the face of our own teachings on this issue (from the website mentioned above):

    Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people… It is the right to think, express and act upon what you deeply believe, according to the dictates of conscience… Religious freedom protects the rights of all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, whether religious or not… Because of their teachings and history, Latter-day Saints have a special commitment to religious freedom… For nearly 200 years Mormon leaders have taught the importance of religious freedom for everyone… Neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced… Religious freedom is as much a duty as it is a right – (Published on by the LDS Church in September, 2013. Retrieved 11/17/2013.)

  3. Everything you write is beyond the point. The LDS church has routinely advocated religious freedom. It welcomes students who are not LDS to convert to Mormonism. It is hypocritical of an LDS church-owned institution to push formerly LDS people out simply because they discontinue participation in the LDS church or find a different religious or philosophical path.

    “Just like the military makes a distinction between ‘civilians’ and ‘soldiers’ who don’t bother to show up any more,’ there is an important distinction between non-members and apostates.”

    Your analogy between church membership and the military is not apt in the least. The US government grants its military the right to try deserters and insubordinates before its own courts and sentence them to imprisonment. The LDS church has no right to imprison people for questioning its doctrines and discontinuing participation. The most it can do is excommunicate people. But even then, that really only applies to those who are found in violation of a select few commandments or have voiced clear opposition to its leaders and teachings.

    Furthermore, you have to make a critical distinction between an apostate, according to the LDS church’s official definition, and someone who leaves the church. Not all who discontinue participation in the LDS church can be defined as apostates. According to Handbook 1 section 6.7.3, page 56, “Total inactivity in the Church or attending
    another church does not constitute apostasy.” To be an apostate, one would have to “repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders” or “formally join another church and advocate
    its teachings.”

    Finally, your argument that students perform better academically when connected with a religious community is not supported by available evidence, which shows a strong correlation between levels of education and irreligiosity. The more irreligious communities around the world are, the better academic performers they tend to be and vice-versa. So you have no case.

  4. If you view BYU as an army training facility and those who leave the Church as “soldiers who don’t bother to show up any more”, then your argument makes sense. Sure, it’s not very charitable of those oh-so-lazy army deserters. And sure, it calls into question BYU’s dedication to free inquiry. And sure, it kind of assumes that BYU students who leave the church are angry ex-Mormons with no compassion for the church and who will disrupt morale (which if they aren’t angry ex-Mormons already, being expelled from BYU for honest religious differences surely will make them one). But if it is an army you want, without the complexity of dissenting views and threats to homogeneity, then this make sense.

  5. Christian, I’ve worked with students who have transferred from and to a lot of schools. The process at BYU-Idaho was very similar to the process elsewhere, and the difficulties are no different. Some classes transfer easily, and some transfer as elective credit. The problem of transferring schools is one that millions of students manage to figure out, so I don’t see it as meriting special consideration. The consequences of disaffection may be inconvenient, but expecting students to give some forethought to the consequences and timing before making an informed choice is really not too much to ask of adults. Also, I am not treating students who leave the church as the worst sort of apostate, merely as apostates. I’m having a hard time imagining someone who takes positive steps to leave the church, but would accept and benefit from an institutional mission of service to the church. Please note also that this isn’t just about the good of the individual student versus the good of the institution, but also of the good of the rest of the student body.

    David, it seems a strange sort of religious freedom that would require believers to include unbelievers in their religious institutions.

    Brad L, please note that academic (or artistic, or athletic, or whatever) accomplishment in service to a community does not require that community to be religious in nature, and nothing I wrote implies that it does. As for the rest of your comment, very little of it makes sense.

  6. Jonathan, “please note that academic (or artistic, or athletic, or whatever) accomplishment in service to a community does not require that community to be religious in nature, and nothing I wrote implies that it does.”

    I invite you to reread your first two paragraphs. You clearly state that BYU should not allow people who leave the church to continue to be enrolled because achievement in academics is contingent upon “students’ finding motivation in a higher purpose or community greater than themselves,” strongly suggesting that academic accomplishment among LDS students is contingent on them remaining connected to and motivated by the LDS church and its teachings.

    “As for the rest of your comment, very little of it makes sense.”

    I don’t care that it doesn’t make sense to you (plus, I suspect you say that because you have no response to it). I am quite sure that it makes sense to pretty much everyone else reading this. Besides, so far it looks like you don’t have too many commenters in agreement with your post. I think you need to address the religious freedom issue more in depth. Is it not extremely hypocritical of a religious organization that strongly supports religious freedom to deny it to students at its educational institutions, especially when it employs people not of its religion at its institution and accepts students not affiliated with its religion?

  7. Some of you are acting as if the church and BYU are unbiased, disinterested 3rd parties. The church funds BYU for a purpose. It wants to further it’s missions; one of which is share the gospel. Of course it invites some non-members on campus for this purpose. At one point in time, I was a missionary assigned to BYU campus. We had a lot of investigators.

    To Jonathan’s point, religious freedom means that religions do not have to tolerate, accept or allow non-believers in any of their religious spaces. And BYU is a certainly religious space for Mormons. If those that leave the church want a religiously neutral educational environment, they have literally thousands of options. For those of us that are interested in a Mormon environment, BYU schools are all we have.

  8. Nobody here has claimed that the Church MUST allow ex-Mormons to attend BYU but that the Church SHOULD practice what it preaches, even when inconvenient. It is totally within the Church’s right to practice its own form of religious discrimination within its own private sphere of control. However, if the Church doesn’t want people to view its recent religious freedom rhetoric as thinly veiled homophobia, then it would make sense for the Church to embrace the principles of religious freedom when they are the ones in power. If the principle of religious freedom is truly as important as the Church claims, the fact that the Church can legally discriminate does not mean that they should discriminate.

  9. You are free to leave the church, you aren’t free to leave the church and occupy a spot reserved for faithful church members.

    There are more deserving members for that slot. In a world of infinite resources the free BYU types have a point. In a world of scarcity and enrollment limitations, hard choices have to be made.

    Make your hard choice to leave if you must and live with it.

  10. BYU is highly subsidized by tithing money. They should be allowed to set standards for attendance.

    And let it not be forgotten, higher levels of education in Mormons correspond to higher levels of religious commitment.

    “I was a little surprised by that,” said Campbell, who is LDS and who has extensively studied on the role of religion in the public square. “The more educated a Mormon is, the more likely they are to be wholehearted in their commitment to the church and its teachings.”

  11. “You are free to leave the church, you aren’t free to leave the church and occupy a spot reserved for faithful church members.”

    That logic doesn’t quite work out when you acknowledge the acceptance of non-Mormons at BYU. I might add that the Church should make the hard choice to be consistence with its principles, even if that means espousing religious freedom when not convenient.

  12. Those who are playing the religious freedom card for the apostate student seek to require BYU to provide a type of education it does not desire to provide. It is as if a fickle couple announced to a general contractor that they had unilaterally redesigned the house plan that they had hired him to build and he had no say in accepting the new design or the new terms of the contract. A change order can only be created if both parties agree. BYU does not agree to provide a solely secular education, nor does it intend to create a community of students solely seeking a secular education.

    In my mind, any LDS student seeking a BYU education has agreed to adhere to a type of contract. If one contracts with the institution that one will live a committed LDS lifestyle as part of the education they will pursue at BYU, then suddenly makes a decision to no longer live that religion, that is evidence that one does not now intend to keep the contract. The LDS student cannot keep the contract to live a committed LDS lifestyle without actually being LDS. BYU has no obligation to educate someone who has announced that the do not intend to keep the specifications of their contract.

    The student’s religious freedom has not been violated. They can question, think, study and pray all they want as part of their studies at BYU. But they may not unilaterally change the terms of the contract. In choosing to leave the church and BYU there may be some cost, but nothing above that of a student changing their minds about which university to attend or which major or minor to graduate with. It was the student’s decision to do so. Both the Church and BYU would have strongly encouraged them to stay before the point they sent in their letter.

  13. The word “apostate” is being thrown around here in ways that don’t match the church’s or society’s definition. Not everyone who becomes less active in the church is apostate.

    I earned a second degree at a community college after graduating from BYU, and was frustrated at the classes I had to retake because the community college wouldn’t accept the BYU courses that covered the same material. Needless to say, they were incredibly easy the second time around. I’m convinced colleges intentionally do this in order to generate more revenue. Transferring credits is not nearly as easy as some make it out to be; a BYU student who’s kicked out towards the end of the semester could easily end up a full year behind because of his or her decision regarding which church to join.

  14. “higher levels of education in Mormons correspond to higher levels of religious commitment”

    Bear in mind that those polled self-identified as Mormons. It could very well be that people who have affiliated with Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam but who are inactive or semi-active in their respective religious communities in the US tend to self-identity as members of their respective religious groups more than people who have affiliated with Mormonism but are inactive and semi-active. Throughout humanity there is a negative correlation between religiosity and level of education. In spite of the Pew Research poll, we should still be cautious to think of Mormonism as a huge exception to the rule. I would think that if we included in the sample those who do not self-identify as Mormon but who used to be, we would get a different result.

  15. Old Man –

    “Those who are playing the religious freedom card for the apostate student seek to require BYU to provide a type of education it does not desire to provide.”

    “BYU does not agree to provide a solely secular education, nor does it intend to create a community of students solely seeking a secular education.”

    This is not what FreeBYU is after. They are not asking the school to become secular, but to allow the ex-Mormon students to continue participation. BYU allows non-Mormons into the school already, and that is not seen as a secularization of the campus.

    “In my mind, any LDS student seeking a BYU education has agreed to adhere to a type of contract. If one contracts with the institution that one will live a committed LDS lifestyle as part of the education they will pursue at BYU, then suddenly makes a decision to no longer live that religion, that is evidence that one does not now intend to keep the contract.”

    The argument is not if BYU has a right to enforce a contract. It does. The question is whether the contract should include religious belief in the first place. The idea that a powerful institution that superficially proclaims the importance of religious freedom would ask naive and inexperienced 18 year olds to legally contract to a certain religious belief under threat of explosion seems antithetical to religious freedom.

  16. The statement “BYU students are gaining an education in order to serve the church in some way” is not accurate. They are hopefully gaining an education to learn how to better serve God and help their fellow man. (Isn’t that the message of the NT?) The whole premise of the post is wrong. And the word “apostate” seems unnecessarily harsh. There must be a less pejorative word.

  17. Your “military deserter” analogy falls flat for me. You can’t compare people who, as adults, made the decision to enlist in the military, to children who “decided” to join the Mormon church as eight-year-olds. And to be clear, you can switch religions all you want and remain in both the military and West Point. Even service members aren’t required to remain enlisted until they die. Most people who sign up for military service do so for a few years — not eternity.

    A serviceman deciding to breach a contract to remain in a temporary vocation is not comparable to a person who can no longer accept the specific truth claims of the LDS Church. West Point trains cadets to be Officers. Last time I checked, graduates of BYU aren’t guaranteed leadership positions in the Church. You’re comparing apples to… well not even oranges. At least apples and oranges are both fruit. It’s more like your comparing apples to cobble stones. They’re both fist-sized and roundish, but that’s where the comparison ends. Biting into the apple that is the military is a lot different than biting into the cold, hard seer stone of the LDS Church.

    It should be obvious to anyone of at least average intelligence that people who leave the Church while enrolled at BYU are not asking for special treatment. They are only asking to be treated like any other non-member. You seem to imply that it is almost a forgone conclusion that people who enroll as non-members will eventually become members. But I don’t think that converting non-members has ever been an explicit goal at BYU. First of all, I’ll point out that non-members are not required to join the church in order to remain in school or to graduate. Second of all, even if one of the goals is to have non-members join the Church, wouldn’t it make more sense to treat people who leave the Church in a more charitable manner? I’m pretty sure Christ Never said, “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray… that he might push him off a cliff?” Throwing someone out of school for changing religious beliefs is hardly incentive to return to the fold.

  18. “You are free to leave the church, you aren’t free to leave the church and occupy a spot reserved for faithful church members.”

    Yet non-LDS people are allowed to attend BYU as students and work there as employees. Should they be considered to be occupying spots of the more deserving? BYU should be free to kick students out who are no longer believers, I agree. But that leads us to question the LDS church’s commitment to religious freedom and to the doctrine of agency. If the LDS leaders really mean what they say on those issues, then they should instruct the administrators at BYU not to kick students simply for leaving the LDS church. The policy at BYU basically forces LDS students who no longer see themselves as believing Mormons to profess religious belief against their will. Doesn’t sound like religious freedom or agency to me.

  19. Brad L.’s quoting from the Handbook’s description of apostasy for the purpose of Church discipline seems completely beside the point, because the FreeBYU people are those who have voluntarily renounced their membership in the Church. That is the primary dictionary definition of apostate: “One who abjures or forsakes his religious faith” (OED).

    And a “religious freedom” that forbids a body of religious believers from differentiating between themselves and those who have renounced their membership in the body is a mockery of the word “freedom”.

    I know of a scholar who joined the faculty at BYU as a non-member, later joined the Church, then apostatized from the Church, and consequently lost his position at BYU. To say that he was in the same position after apostatizing as he was before joining the Church is analogous to saying “that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce” (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis).

  20. I think BYU should allow members who lose their faith to stay. That said, the religious liberty argument DOES NOT make much sense because 1- the LDS Church is NOT a state actor 2- allowing religious groups to set policies regarding acceptance, hiring, firing and other activities is considered at the heart of religious liberty. If religious institutions are not allowed to govern themselves, they don’t have much liberty.

    For example, I spent some of my college years at a Jesuit School. Let’s say I applied to be the Chaplin at the school, they would have every right to turn me down on the basis of being a Mormon. Far from being against religious liberty, courts have actually defined unnamed Jesuit School’s right NOT to hire me on the basis of my Mormonism a “religious liberty.”

    When the church pushes for religious liberty, it is for legal rights in the public sphere, and the church is pretty consistent in supporting religious liberty regardless of how unpopular the group is. For example, during the controversy of the so-called “9-11 Mosque” Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated that Muslim’s had a right to build the Mosque (Orin Hatch also supported the Mosque. Strangely Harry Reid did not). The LDS church also supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law created to overturn Employment Division v. Smith, a case that denied the right of Native American’s to use peyote on the basis of their religion.

    Now if anyone can find an instance in which the church has requested the government impede the ability of other religions to run their organizations as they see fit (either ecclesiastical or other, such as medical, educational, etc), then you might have a point. But since I can’t think of a time when the church has tried to tell Catholics how to run their hospitals or schools, Muslims how to run their Mosques or charities I don’t see much hypocrisy. Especially since, once again, a simple Con Law 101 overview of the case law on religious liberty establishes that part of religious liberty is the right of religions to run their institutions and programs as they see fit.

    When people pull quotes from the church supporting religious liberty, and then use it to condemn BYU’s current policy it is like pulling a quote from a mayor praising “free speech” and then calling that Mayor a hypocrite because the city has time/place/management restrictions on speech. Time/place/management restrictions on speech are part of free speech, the right of religions to run their institutions and programs as they see fit is part of religious liberty, and the church has consistently supported that aspect of religious liberty.

    Again, there are plenty of reasons to want BYU to change the current policy. I disagree with Jonathan because I don’t think allowing LDS students who lose their faith will lead to a “secular BYU.” I think this impacts a very small minority and I see the cost as minimal in letting them stay at the cost of non-LDS BYU students as long as they are willing to obey the BYU Honor Code. On the flip-side, the cost is quite high when we kick them out. I went through an atheist phase myself, and thank heavens I wasn’t at BYU, I might not be in the church today. Who is more likely to come back? The person who was patiently allowed to finish their time at BYU or the people who lost time, energy, money and friends in one fell swoop because they went through an atheist phase at the wrong school.

  21. Nathan Whilk:

    I completely agree with you. God thinks of people who leave the Church as like licked cupcakes or chewed pieces of gum. Apostates will never be the way the they were before they left the church. What kind of a God would want a person who has given up thier by leaving the church? It’s kind of like pounding a nail into a board. The atonement can rip that sucker out of there, but there will always be a jagged hole where the nail used to be… Or maybe the board is BYU and the nails are people who leave the church. I don’t know. Analogies are hard.

  22. Jason:

    You said, “Now if anyone can find an instance in which the church has requested the government impede the ability of other religions to run their organizations as they see fit (either ecclesiastical or other, such as medical, educational, etc), then you might have a point.”

    The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage was a request for government to impede the ability of religious organizations to perform marriages for same-sex couples, if that was their desire (spoiler, that WAS and IS the desire of many religious organizations). Thank you for conceding that those of use who disagree with the contents of this blog post have valid points! You’re awesome!

  23. Erik,

    That is exactly what they are after. They wish to establish a secular community at BYU, a community of students for whom the LDS religion is either irrelevant or despised. You want to force BYU to admit them even though they violated an agreement with BYU. Adulthood is hard, and if they do not understand the commitment they are making, they should not be allowed to marry, buy a car or join the military either,

    Billy T,

    They are not like any other non-member. They were admitted and then violated the contract they agreed to. The Church paid for and established BYU for students (LDS and non-LDS) willing to develop their characters and willing to keep their commitments. These students did not keep the terms of their contract and they are often openly antagonistic towards the LDS Church and BYU community. Why seek to justify a second chance for them (on the Church’s dime) when so many can’t even have a first chance? You are asking for a double standard. An excommunicated person is not eligible for admission into BYU, regardless of the reason. They should not be part of the BYU community after admission.

  24. BYU is hosting a religious freedom conference. Yet, it doesn’t allow it. This shouldn’t be about what you have noticed or what you think but about principles. They come first, and free agency comes first of all. BYU restricts freedom of thought. That just isn’t okay.

  25. Billy T- Interesting point, but it sounds like you are at least conceding that the church is not hypocritical in it’s policies of former believing BYU student’s, other wise you would have made a reference to that rather than to an unrelated matter?

  26. To clarify my point, I grant you that the LDS Church is a hypocritical organization. That I am a hypocrite and that every human that has walked across the earth was at least one point a hypocrite. I do agree that the church’s stance on prop 8 is hypocritical on a number of points. You could have also pointed to the fact that we used to be polygamists who detested monogamy, and I have no problem with you pointing out my church’s, or my hypocrisy, since hypocrisy is something easier seen in others. So when people point out hypocrisy they are doing me an (undesired) favor. But not all accusations of hypocrisy are hypocrisy and I just don’t think the accusations that the church’s current policy for former believing BYU student’s is hypocrisy based on basic common understood legal principles. Again, I too oppose the policy, I just think that reason does not make sense once get a basic understanding of what is commonly understood as “religious liberty.”

  27. Old Man:

    Yes, they violated the contract they agreed to. We are advocating that the terms of that contract be changed. Fortunately for us, the church can and does change its policies; otherwise Black people still could not hold the priesthood or receive temple endowments.

    I’m glad that you used the word “often” when describing the demeanor of BYU students who leave the church. Had you spoken in absolutes by using a term like “always,” then BYU’s policy of kicking out EVERY student who leaves the church might be justified.

    But again, BYU students who leave the church are not asking for special treatment. They are only asking to be treated just like students who enroll in BYU as non-members. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that non-member BYU students are kicked out for speaking out against the Church or its policies. A member student is allowed to speak out against the church or its policies. Why should a person who leaves the church be held to a higher standard than members of the church or people who have never been members?

  28. Lawrence,

    BYU expects individuals to keep the terms of their contracts. I am pretty sure that you can think of examples in which most of us on a daily basis make agreements which limit our individual freedom and agency. Marriage, parenthood, loans, employment and professional obligations are just a few… And I am pretty sure you readily recognize that no right is absolute. Most institutions restrict speech and expression in some form. To claim that BYU is somehow hypocritical for defending freedom while expecting people to keep their agreements would demonstrate an inability to discern the realities of the situation.

  29. Jason:

    I see your point. I’m not sure that we are on different pages here — especially since we are both advocating for the same thing. However, I would like to add to the conversation that I don’t believe that religious organizations should be issued a “blank check” to do whatever they want in the name of religious liberty. For example: we don’t allow things like human sacrifice or blood atonement, even though certain religions have espoused those beliefs as tenets of their respective faiths at various points throughout history.

    As a society, we often disallow practices, which are performed in the name of religious liberty, in favor of protecting individuals from abuse. I believe that BYU’s practice of kicking out every individual who leaves the church while they (BYU) freely admit other non-members is both discriminatory and abusive. BYU can rectify this in one of two ways (their may be more): 1) they can stop kicking people out who leave the church, or 2) they can stop allowing any non-member to enroll in classes. I hope they choose the former, but if they chose the latter, at least they will no longer be discriminating in such a blatantly hypocritical manner.

  30. Billy T,

    Sorry, we are only allowed one major policy change per century.

    They are not held to a higher standard. They breeched the terms of their initial agreement with the institution. They are out trying to renegotiate the standard they violated that the rest of the students adhered to. Why represent or advocate for someone who openly violated a contract and then whines when the inevitable happens? These people are smart, and they hate the LDS Church and what it represents so they left… But they were not smart enough to figure out that it was going to cost them time and money reconfiguring their educational experience? And now, after voicing oposition to the Church, they want BYU to give them another chance? How does BYU determine if they will keep the contract this time around? Why should the LDS Church subsidize their education again? Why should we give someone else’s opportunity to them so they can finish? Why do they want to return to BYU? To save a few thousand bucks? And risk expulsion again when they fail to adhere to the honor code that so many of them openly mock? Sounds like a bad investment for both BYU and the student.

    There are plenty of fine institutions in the area, UVU, USU, etc., that generally accept most BYU credit. Many students move around from college to college and the world did not end for them.

  31. Tim, I don’t think most transfer difficulties are due to colleges wanting more tuition dollars. Sometimes venal factors come into play, but the biggest and most widespread problem is that classes at one university have to transfer as classes in a particular program at the second university. So maybe you took Physics ABC in one semester at Uni 1, while the physics department at Uni 2 has designed its major so that a 2-semester sequence of Physics AB followed by Physics CD prepares students for a capstone course in Physics E, for which student who have not had Physics D will be woefully unprepared. Problems like that are not uncommon. Some programs can accommodate just about anything, but the more specifically targeted and structured a program is, the more issues arise in transfer situations.

    Fortunately, the worst that can happen is that a student’s college education takes a year longer than it would otherwise. Even in the small scheme of things, it’s not a huge setback.

    Jason, thanks very much for the careful reading and for the clear statement of where you disagree with me. With more comments like that, something productive might come of these discussions.

  32. Old Man:

    Again, we are advocating for a change of policy. Nobody is arguing that BYU doesn’t have a right to enforce their own policies. What we are saying is that the policy is inherently wrong and it should be changed. Yes, BYU is within their rights to be harsher with non-members who left the church than they are with non-members who were never members of the church. Just because they have the right to do it, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. Diners in the South had the right to not let black people eat at their lunch counter until the 60s. That doesn’t mean that people were wrong in advocating for that change. The way that BYU currently deals with people who leave the church is wrong. This policy should change.

  33. Billy T- I hope you can see there is a big difference between human sacrifice and BYU’s policy. And again, within the common understanding of what constitutes religious liberty BYU is well within its rights. We do really agree on so many things I am just curious why Free BYU makes agreeing with them so hard? The religious liberty argument seems uniformed at best and deceptive at worst. Y’all should drop it for arguments better based in fact.

  34. Jason:

    Just to be clear, I’m not a member of Free BYU, not do I speak for them. I thought it was obvious that I was being a bit hyperbolic when I mentioned human sacrifice in the same breath as BYU’s policy, but I did it to make a point: I don’t think that religious liberty should serve as an unregulated protection for the bad behavior of any religious institution. I think that BYU’s policy is despicable and discriminatory and should not enjoy the protection of religious liberty.

  35. Saying BYU is hypocritical for disallowing students who publicly disavow the faith to continue to attend school is like calling #BlackLivesMatter hypocritical for not allowing neo-nazis to speak at their events or pride parades disallowing anti-gay rights groups from participating. If you’re criticizing BYU for their actions, you better be prepared to criticize non-governmental groups for restricting speech at their events.

    Freedom of Speech as a principle only applies to the government. The government cannot restrict your right to speech except in specific extreme circumstances. Non-governmental groups can in their spheres of influence. Freedom of Religion likewise only applies to the government. The government cannot restrict your right to the free exercise of religion. Non-governmental groups can in their spheres of influence.

    As it is popular to say online – freedom of speech is not freedom from the consequences of that speech when it comes to the public at large. Likewise freedom of religion is not freedom from the consequences of your choice of religion when it comes to the public at large.

  36. Nathan Whilk (#20), FreeBYU includes people who no longer desire to actively participate in the LDS church and technically wouldn’t be considered apostates according to the LDS church’s definition. So yeah, that definition is relevant, not only because of the FreeBYU matter, but because Green and many of the commenters appear to be flinging around the word apostate as if it applies to people who just stop going to church.

    Jared vdH (#37), the LDS church also teaches the principle of agency, and an LDS-owned institution forcing austere consequences on a student or employee simply because their beliefs evolved to the point that they can no longer honestly profess the LDS doctrines appears to run counter to the principle of agency. You’re right that the LDS church has the right to restrict people’s free practice of religion in their own domain. However, the leaders should stop saying that they support freedom of religion or at least qualify what they mean and fully admit that they don’t support freedom of religion at their educational institutions and office building. It’s the honest thing to do.

    Freedom of speech and religion is freedom from many consequences that one might choose to impose on another. If I don’t like what you say, I don’t have the right to impose the consequence of punching you in the face. Freedom from austere consequences that different cultures may feel the impulse to impose is what freedom of speech and religion is all about.

  37. Jason, I’ve read through your comments, and I mostly agree, particularly because you acknowledge the LDS church’s hypocrisy. Yet I think that large organizations have to be held to much higher standards than individuals when it comes to hypocrisy and inconsistency.

  38. I do think this is a great article and it makes some really good points. I think BYU can make some tweaks around the edges to make the policy more tolerable. For instance it can give a grace period before one loses employment and has to leave housing. And it can do whatever it can to facilitate transfers. (As you point out transferring is tricky as is even outside of this context).

    But at the end of the day, being able to exclude is one of the integral components of religious freedom. If BYU loses the ability to do that, then it loses the ability to truly fulfill its mission. I also think the comments regarding tithing funds are apt. When members are subsidizing attendance it becomes even more important to avoid subsidizing those who have left the Church. The school is taking a clear stance that leaving the Church cuts one off from a myriad of blessings. And for BYU students those blessings are temporal as well as spiritual.

    Thanks for posting this. I am sure you are going to get a lot of flak for it, but I am grateful for it.

  39. Many of the discussions are missing some of the fundamental issues. Please read the information at We are talking about students who have exercised what the Church considers to be a “fundamental right” (albeit in a way that the Church does not like) and who are otherwise in compliance with the Honor Code and eligible for an ecclesiastical endorsement and willing to pay non-LDS tuition. Certainly BYU can and will make its own rules, but can someone explain what concrete benefit BYU gains from telling a student who is honor code compliant and could obtain an EE that they cannot even finish out their existing semester simply because said student has chosen to attend Church XYZ instead of the LDS Church. Sure, BYU has the right to do it, but doing so doesn’t help either BYU or the student. In fact, it seems likely to take someone who might be only disillusioned and instead make them openly hostile.

  40. “Why should a person who leaves the church be held to a higher standard than members of the church or people who have never been members?”

    The key difference is disloyalty. This has been alluded to here and there in the OP (with the analogy to deserters) and the comments, but I feel like it needs to be discussed more directly. Speaking in broad generalities, a never-been-a-member student who enrolls has not established a relationship of loyalty toward the Church, and the Church is eager to change that neutral outlook into a loyal one. A member student who loses faith to the point of leaving the Church (to the point of renouncing covenants) is betraying the institution they swore loyalty to.

    These are very broad generalities and every assumption should be carefully analyzed and weighed.
    1. Are non-member prospective students actually neutral in their outlook to the Church? The answers vary widely from student to student, and probably the most hostile are dissuaded from applying because of the rigors of the honor code and the requirement to obtain ecclesiastical endorsement, but many are still motivated by the impressive boost from a BYU credential on their CV. Even with the honor code, there still exists a range of feelings toward the Church from non-member students.

    2. Are disaffecting member students actually disloyal? The act of separating oneself from one’s faith may be prima facie evidence for many that they are fundamentally disloyal, but in my experience motivations for breaking from one’s group are complex. They may find themselves still deeply attached to the group identity and want to continue to align themselves as much as they possibly can, while some other deeper issue drives a wedge between them and Mormonism. Another possible scenario might include recent converts who didn’t fully grasp the doctrines at baptism and are now changing their minds. It is for these souls that this policy rankles me. It treats all forms of disaffection the same: ecclesiastical treason. Might it be possible for this policy to be transformed into a guiding principle instead? To be handled on a case-by-case basis per the student’s *actual* instead of presumed disposition?

    3. To what extent is loyalty an appropriate moral rubrik from which to judge someone? Conservative thinkers generally tend to put more weight on group loyalty as a measure of righteousness than do liberal thinkers (see Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s findings at and I think this is where many of you are talking past each other. In the Free-BYU camp, it makes no sense for loyalty to be the litmus test because that is so much lower on the priority list than the moral standards of compassion and liberty. In the BYU-must-remain-LDS camp, it makes no sense NOT to consider loyalty because that is how you can tell if a member of your group is pulling their weight and can be trusted.

    Given that LDS Church leaders skew conservative, and that whole religious freedom of self-governance thing explicated above, it’s clearly within the Church’s right to penalize disloyalty. But, I also feel it would create a healthier society if BYU’s administration indicated that they are hearing the tumult and are mindfully considering the arguments presented to them. Ignoring complaints just creates bigger rifts, louder complainers, and a stronger sense of injustice being perpetrated. Engaging with the complainants in a spirit of mutual understanding and collaboration may reveal solutions that are acceptable to all parties.

  41. Brad L: For the sake of clarity, I have only used ‘apostate’ according to the strict sense, meaning people who have formally ended their church membership, as Nathan Whilk mentioned above. No one else here has used the word in any other way. Your insistence that I’m using the word to mean something else is mysterious, but your comments are often sources of mystery. Also, you’re misusing the word ‘austere.’ I believe you mean ‘severe.’

    David Day, it seems disingenuous to say that these are merely BYU students who have chosen to attend other churches, when the policy is about students who have chosen to renounce their membership in the LDS church. That the students are otherwise in compliance with the honor code is not terribly convincing. It’s like praising the spotless windows on a house engulfed in flames. Keeping hair neatly trimmed is nice, but doesn’t really compare to renouncing one’s baptismal covenants.

  42. Can the OP really claim that BYU attendees “take responsibility for their education” when so much of their tuition is subsidized by tithing paid largely by people who have never attended BYU?

    I never went to BYU, so I will never know the intangible benefits of that experience/process. But is there some implied sense of duty instilled into the students to live up to BYU honor code standards to “pay back” those tithe payers who are footing some of the bill?

    I keep getting hung up on this issue of subsidization& wealth redistribution. In all cases I am OK with using tithing money to build and maintain chapels & temple in underfunded areas of the world. However, the BYU funding scheme just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it is sour grapes because I had to pay my own way through college. Sure it was a State school that benefited from tax subsidies. But guess what, I am a tax payer & will be for the rest of my life. I consider my debt to the State paid through my continued tax burden. So, how do BYU students consider their education debt to the church paid? A lifetime of faithful tithe payments?

    Or. . . can we consider the BYU-verse a self sufficient organism? Do the tithes of its graduates fully subsidize the current crop of students in generational perpetuity?
    But even if that was the case, would that not shift a disproportionate amount of burden on the rest of the non-BYU tithe payers to fund the regular church functions?

    No matter how you slice it, I feel like I am always going to be a bit jaded by the church’s BYU tuition subsidy because I have a hard time seeing what it is that makes BYU such a necessary and important arm of the church.

  43. I feel like the OP and I are talking past each other a little bit, and I think that’s because we do largely start with different assumptions. The OP has referred in various posts to those who leave the Church as apostates, being engulfed in flames, or having renounced baptismal covenants. My sense is that all of those phrases are quite loaded and paint a picture someone likely to cause considerable harm if they remain at BYU. Certainly there are those leave the Church who fit into that category (and its probably the majority), but those in that situation would not be able to get an EE. My comments in 41 were perhaps not clear enough, because the OP in 43 has not fairly summarized what I intended to say. I’m not talking about someone who simply chooses to attend another church, I very well understand that we are talking about someone who has formally renounced their church membership. Post 42 does a good job of explaining that the reasons for doing that way well be complex and vary considerably. does a good job of explaining that the only students who should be allowed to remain are those who could get an EE, and who in the words of post 42: They may find themselves still deeply attached to the group identity and want to continue to align themselves as much as they possibly can, while some other deeper issue drives a wedge between them and Mormonism.

    There have been and will continue to be college students who during the course of college come to no longer accept the fundamental truth claims of Mormonism, i.e. they determine that Joseph did not actually see what he said he saw. Some subset of those students will still find some beauty and truth in Mormonism and the Church even after having renounced their membership. I’ll ask again, what does BYU gain from expelling those students? Are there no exceptions to this rule?

    Going back to posts 2 and 5, I’m not arguing, as the OP asserts, that religious freedom requires that BYU be forced to accept unbelievers. I am arguing that BYU should voluntarily choose who accept students who have exercised their religious freedom to leave the Church and join another church (or no church). The OPs comments underline my concern with the Church’s current rhetoric on religious freedom, i.e. it sounds a little bit like a desire to have maximum religious freedom for the Church (including the right for the Church to discriminate as it sees fit) but little if any desire to extend that same right to others, and specifically to those who would use that right to convert people away from the Church. I agree with almost everything the Church says about religious freedom, but there are small parts of it that make me uncomfortable for the reasons noted above. Reversing this policy would go a long way towards allaying my concerns.

    I actually think the OP and I agree on this issue in almost all cases. I can’t emphasize enough that I am talking about a narrow subset of people who still want to be at BYU, still live the entire Honor Code, etc.

  44. The hostility to those whose only difference is not believing as you do is pretty off the charts. Calling them apostates and comparing them to anarchists and soldiers who go AWOL.

  45. Nate (44) There are several benefits to the Church from BYU:

    1) BYU is visible from a Marketing sense
    2) BYU is a symbol of the importance of education to the Church
    3) BYU brings in people from other countries to be educated
    4) BYU is a unique education unavailable anywhere else
    5) BYU allows members who are not from the Mormon Corridor to experience what it is like to be around many others of their faith. For me, this is at least partially why I’m still a member.

    I went to BYU. I went year-round to save money, and other than the first year worked part-time. I took a course weight heavy enough to graduate from a program in 3 years that normally takes 5. Because of BYU, I was able to graduate with no debt. Had I had debt, I could not have served a mission. I would have been on Church welfare for much longer than 2 weeks when my husband left. I could not be a single working mother with spotty (at best) child support and not rely on the Church to feed my children. I would not have a degree which has allowed me to have a career to support my family.

    So yes, BYU benefits the Church.

    A few common misunderstandings in your post:

    1) Tithing is not a subsidy. Payment of tithing is completely separate from the use of tithing. We pay tithing to the Lord, not to a cause.
    2) Tithing is taken very seriously by the Brethren and by almost everyone who uses it. I’m not saying every dollar is spent wisely, but every dollar is spent conscientiously. The Church is not accountable to members for how tithing funds are spent. They are accountable to God. If you have a problem with how it is spent, it is God you should be asking.

    You sound like people who think their property tax shouldn’t pay for public schools because they don’t have children.

  46. There are some thoughtful contributions in this thread, but the most persuasive thoughts are in the very first comment, the one by christiankimball. He acknowledges the insight in the original post, and then he argues for a degree of nuance and tolerance that neither Jonathan Green nor BYU seem able to muster. It should be possible for BYU to use discretion, compassion, and flexibility without discarding its policy on students who leave the church. Discretion and compassion are signs of maturity, not weakness. Unfortunately, in BYU’s current hatch-battening phase, too many people there do not find that kind of maturity very appealing.

    I have some hope that BYU’s current struggles with its policies on sexual assault will help beat back the absolutist forces. Good people are working on that problem. We’ll see. I’m disappointed, though, that Jonathan, who started so well with his original post, moved so quickly to the absolutist line.

  47. Re: using “apostate” to mean different things, from going AWOL to becoming less-active —

    As I wrote in 42, the key is disloyalty. Disloyal people become distrusted people. Jonathan, do you believe it is possible for a latter-day saint to renounce her membership in the Church while still feeling loyal to her people and supporting its mission? Is it possible to trust an ex-Mormon studying at BYU? How far?

    BYU’s policy seems to answer, “not very far at all.”
    My answer is, “depends on the person.”

  48. Thaddeus, I’m not sure how the claim of loyal feeling could be more persuasive than a concrete act like renouncing church membership. If I understand correctly, I think you and David Day are both arguing that there might be some students who leave the church but still support the church in some way, and so the policy should be changed for them. I cannot prove that there are no such unicorns anywhere, but I think their hypothetical existence should not decide on the formulation of a general policy that works in most cases, even as I think that administrators should use discretion and mercy in granting exceptions where it is warranted.

    Brad L: I think you’re starting to repeat yourself, and you’re being annoying, so your participation on this thread is done.

  49. My personal experience says that these “unicorns” are far more common than we think, but by labeling them apostates and shutting them out (of our universities, our places of worship, our social circles, and sometimes even our homes) we exacerbate the problem and turn them into our enemies. By signaling that we distrust them, we lose the benefit of their doubt and confirm their choice to leave.

  50. Someone who stops believing but doesn’t become an implacable foe is a “unicorn.”

    I guess T&S has morphed into the Breitbart of LDS blogs.

  51. Sigh. Being asked to defend things I didn’t say is not all that interesting.

    Thaddeus, I’m not sure why the church would owe trust to people who have already formally renounced all their obligations towards the church. I also don’t see how the word ‘apostate’ is out of place for people who have taken steps to formalize their apostasy. Now it’s true that ‘apostasy’ is not a value-free term; it assumes that there is a right and wrong side in a faith transition, and the word would be out of place in discussions that see religion in neutral terms. But this is a Mormon blog where certain assumptions apply.

  52. It isn’t fair to kick someone out of the college for not believing any longer. I don’t care about scarcity of slots. People need to stop acting so entitled. Let the person finish what they started and practice what you preach: religious freedom. If the church must be hypocritical, they can at least be charitable and still count the student’s past credits and give them a refund. The church sure likes to hold people hostage. Kind of manipulative in my opinion.

  53. Yet, BYU trusts members of other religious traditions as long as they were never formerly identified as Mormon in a past life. How is that trust any more owed? Any member of a different religious tradition attending BYU does not agree with Mormon truth claims or theology or else they would be Mormon. However, they are welcome to participate in the community that BYU seeks to create. It is clear that there is a place for other religious traditions.

    I fail to see the need to label a former Mormon as de facto hostile. A profession of belief in another faith tradition does not require any hostility that is not inherently expressed by every other member of that faith.

    I personally find it immoral that BYU would refuse to recognize the religious affiliation of others. When an individual approaches the University as say a Catholic. The University tells them that no, they are not a Catholic. They are a former Mormon Catholic who will be treated differently than every other Catholic the school interacts with. An individual who chooses to affiliate with a different faith tradition should be treated as every other member of that tradition. The freedom to individually determine our religious identity is fundamental to religious freedom. This is an individual not an institutional right.

    On a slightly different note. Attempting to leave a school as a graduate student or faculty member carries a much stronger burden than as an undergraduate student. Many graduate programs do not transfer in any meaningful way and losing tenure and seniority can have severe repercussions on your career.

  54. Given how inactive some of my roommates at BYU were, it seems to me that if you’re going to go through the effort of renouncing your church membership, it would be rather hypocritical to continue to attend BYU.
    As for the difference between a non-member attending, vs. a no-longer member to continue to attend, I believe the difference would be the sowing of distrust of the church to the other students. Someone who isn’t a member, yet wants to attend BYU, probably doesn’t have many hang-ups about the church. Someone who was a member probably does have a lot of hang-ups about the church and is going to spread those around. Even if it was done unintentionally and in casual conversation. So I can see why an institution wouldn’t want that in an organization it created.
    They only way to counteract that would be if the rule was “If you leave the church, and to continue to attend, you can’t tell anyone that you’ve left, talk about religion at all, or mentioned to anyone why you left, or other things which bother you about the church”. And I highly suspect the freeBYU group wouldn’t like that.

  55. There are other universities that are sponsored by religious insttutions or denominations. To my knowledge, many of most of them admit people from other religions. How many of those nonLDS religiious institutions dismiss students who convert from the host religion to Mormonism? Or convert to some other faith or none at all? Is BYU’s policy common among religiously sponsored universities?

  56. I think it’s sad that so many still think that renouncing faith somehow equates to going underground against the church.

    To wit, I have several friends who no longer believe, have stopped paying tithing and attending the temple, but still attend church every Sunday with their family, volunteer to flip burgers at FHE in the park, make wonderful comments in class, and seem to believe there is value in raising their kids in this community.

    According to the OP, they are apostates. According to my heart, they are honest Christians.

    I have zero problem showing respect for honesty and allowing these kids to finish what they started. I personally believe they will put their heads down and go to work. The OP seems to think they intend to sow discord. I guess neither of us can prove our point since they will be dismissed. I fully admit I could be wrong, but my worldview seems a happier, more neighborly one to me.

  57. Hello, Johnathan. I’ll raise my hand here and let you know that I’m what you referred to as a “unicorn”, and I exist. In fact, two-thirds of your church’s membership are like me. We are the folks you all label “the inactive”. There’s a whole range of us. Some of us believe in the LDS church but we don’t go because we don’t like church.. But some are like me: We no longer believe in the LDS Church but we also choose not to fight it. We let it be. We simply remain on the rolls because – hey – maybe later we’ll change our minds. Or maybe not. We inactives like options.

    BYU does not allow its students the choice to be inactive and LDS. Many BYU students try it and are quickly pressured back in line. BYU students are required to go to church in order to maintain their ecclesiastical endorsement. But some people just don’t like church. Some students stop believing in it. That doesn’t mean they want to tear it down. If a BYU student makes critical statements against the church, sure, maybe Honor Code them out. But if they decide it’s not for them and are still willing to play nice while they attend, I simply don’t see how letting them finish their academic careers is so dangerous to the institution. The danger is only in your own minds. Heck – maybe they’ll even change their minds again and find belief in the Church if they’re treated like adults.

    I know that’s hard for you to understand because clearly you love the Church and it’s a huge part of your life. Congratulations! But not every member is like you. I’d say you’re actually in the minority. You compare members to soliders. but my experience shows me that most members are not soldiers. Most members are sheep. They follow the flock, not questioning or diving too deep into the doctrines. They stay in the kiddie end of the pool, content to attend and maybe do a calling or wash a few toilets. Dragging their feet as they do so, usually. Look around your Elders Quorum and think about how many of them actually WANT to go do their home teaching. (Hint: Not that many.) Many inactives are sheep too… content to wander off to the other side of the field but staying inside the fence, keeping away from the flock because they don’t like being with the main body of the flock.

  58. David (60), I don’t think that we’re talking about someone who slips into inactivity. If your attending BYU, and you stop showing up to church, you won’t get your ecclesiastical endorsement for the next year, but that won’t kick you out mid semester. We’re talking about someone who goes through the effort to remove their name from the rolls of the church. Someone who publicly announces “I don’t identify as a member of the church anymore.”

  59. David, no, you’re just a regular zebra. As a number of people have mentioned, this is a discussion of a policy that applies to students who leave the church. Remove their names from the rolls. Request to have their names stricken. Renounce their baptism. Willfully become ex-members. I’m not sure how to make it clearer that I’m not talking about inactive students. BYU students do have to maintain some level of activity to get an ecclesiastical endorsement, of course, but that’s a different discussion.

    And I might as well point out that my argument really isn’t about what students who leave the church deserve, or if there might be some way to accommodate them at BYU. Instead, my argument is that students who leave the church are much more likely to have better educational outcomes at another university whose overriding narrative they have not already explicitly rejected. Along with that, I’m arguing that the education of students who accept the university’s mission of preparing students for church service is hampered by letting students stay who reject that overriding purpose. Institutional culture is important, and letting people hang around who reject the goals you’re trying to achieve isn’t good for anybody.

  60. Thank you David. Having grown up in UT and living among the “letter of the law” type, I opted not to attend BYU. I have lived the rest of my life, raised my children, outside of UT. One of my children applied to, received a scholarship, and decided to attend BYU. On the very first day of class as a freshman he was denied breakfast because he had a 5 o’clock shadow. He has very fair, sensitive skin and very dark hair and had shaved late afternoon the day before. One would think the first week of school could be used to educate new students–issue “warnings,” or better yet, repeal the ridiculous superficial restriction(s). He did go on and graduate despite other unpleasant experiences with “letter of the law” type.

    Letter of the law type can be found anywhere–though can be more concentrated in some areas than others.
    I am one of the few still active in the church. Reasons for inactivity among the others vary and include: never received a confirming testimony, unkind treatment/judgment by members, leaders who brought and taught from political material contaiing lies and who were unable/unwilling to acknowledge or correct the errors, and lack of transparency/truthfulness regarding history and finances.

    I am grateful to have lived outside Utah so that I could shed the false narratives/impressions I grew up with such as the LDS people and church are the most Christlike–most honest and most charitable. I am thankful our family has grown to include wonderful Christ-like people, though not all are LDS.

    If BYU was smart they would allow students who have a faith crisis, yet are willing to observe certain requirements, to attend if they choose. However for some students a better choice might be to transfer elsewhere.

  61. Let me restate one of the points the OP makes right at the beginning and make sure he wishes to stand by this statement: when someone formally renounces their Church membership, it is it the best interests of not only BYU but also that student that they be immediately kicked out of the school and their housing, mid semester. Not allowing the student to finish the semester is always, 100% of the time, in the best interests of the student. Is that really the position?

    My sense is that the actual position is that anyone who leaves the Church for any reason is such a horrible person that they deserve to be treated as harshly as BYU is able to treat them and they are also such a dangerous person that they need to be removed immediately since other faithful BYU students obviously have such a weak grip on the Iron Rod that even allowing the apostate to remain in their midst will cause other young, impressionable, gullible students to fall away into the everlasting pit, or worse yet a secular school like the U (which my annoying Ute co-workers call the “school of the prophets” based on the overall number of apostles who went to school there).

    We as a Church seem to care an awfully lot about what one believes (that’s endemic to Christianity, which is a separate discussion). It turns out that in many cases we don’t really care who a person is or what they do, we focus on what they believe. The view apparently is that someone who was baptized at age 8 but during their college years decides that they don’t believe Joseph was a prophet (perhaps after encountering information that was previously withheld from them, perhaps after trying to gain a testimony for years and simply never receiving a spiritual witness) and in order to be true to their belief resigns from the Church is somehow such a horrible threat to BYU that they need to be immediately dismissed (cut the “cancer” out now). Even if the person is Mother Teresa, the fact that they once believed the Church and now don’t (and renounced their membership), then the OP asserts that simply having that person remain for the rest of the semester will so damage the higher purpose of BYU that achievement by other students will be substantially hampered. The person could win the Nobel Peace Prize but if they no longer believe in Joseph, they’ve got to go. I guess I’ll ask the question this way, exactly how many spots in whatever college ranking service you favor would BYU drop if BYU were to let the student finish the semester and adopt the other recommendations made at Are we really accepting the OP’s premise at face value, i.e. achievement at BYU is dramatically higher than it otherwise would be if we didn’t immediately kick out anyone who leaves the Church?

    Let me talk to David (60) and anyone else in a similar boat. I’m a fully active member and I go every week. I’m happy to be your friend whether you go to Church or not. If you do decide to go, you can sit with me. There will be some people there who will make very judgmental comments (like some on this board). We can roll our eyes together, safe in the knowledge that that person is also doing the best they can. Parts of the meeting may be long and dry, but the Spirit will be there and we’ll both get at least something out of it.

  62. BYU offers such a unique educational opportunity, for those who want it. Why must we try so hard to force BYU – and the Church – to be the same as all the others?

    Yes, we can readily identify myriad things which BYU is NOT. Okay with me.

  63. I accept that the institution of BYU has the right to expel ex-Mos, but it is not alright for an allegedly Christian BYU to immediately expel those who formally leave the Church. We shouldn’t have to coerce members into staying. And I don’t like throwing around words like apostate and disloyal. Particularly for a Church that has 75,000 missionaries out trying convert non-Mos to Mormonism.

  64. “Nobody is arguing that BYU doesn’t have a right to enforce their own policies.”

    Actually, I got into a discussion with an attorney in Free BYU and he insisted that BYU should be dramatically punished for enforcing its own policies, complete with losing its certifications and folding up the law school there.

    Just to be very, very clear.

    The difference between a sympathetic non-member who chose BYU, and an apostate is fairly clear. I’m not sure why people are so insistent that there is no difference.

    [b]On the other hand, making it easy for people to transfer out, letting people complete a semester, etc. all seem reasonable changes. I do get the issue over the tuition differential, but asking people to reimburse for the tuition differential on the way out seems harsh.[/b]

    Anyway, this has been an interesting discussion to read.

    Thank you for the original post and the comments.

  65. So, I’m grateful to the OP and those who commented.

    I’d like to see a gentler separation path, though I understand the institution may see those who cannot wait until the end of the semester to completely sever institutional ties as people who ought to sever *all* institutional ties, not just pick and choose.

    However, it seems to me that most of those are people who likely do not understand that they are really severing all ties, not just some.

    And, the elephant in the room is that loss of membership was historically used as a proxy for discovering excommunicated members whom the honor code office had missed. The number of people twenty years ago who lost their membership by resigning it rather than some other avenue was much lower than it probably is today.

  66. I’m going to ask a crazy question here, but exactly how much does the Church subsidize tuition? Does anyone know? A lot of the comments cite this as part of the reason BYU should not be freed. I would love to know how much weight this argument deserves. My guess is there is some subsidization of members, but that the non-member rate is probably close to the actual per student cost or slightly higher. (Just a guess… but it would sure be nice to not have to guess.)

  67. David Day: You’re not doing a great job of reading what I wrote accurately or fairly. I didn’t write anything about the timing of the student’s withdrawal, which is something that might be slightly different in each case. I don’t know why the university would want to delay things too much, though. If a student goes to the effort to do something that he or she knows will result in prompt dismissal from the university – not a moment of carelessness or a brief yielding to enticement, but a deliberate bureaucratic step like filling out a form – why would the university want to delay the consequences? The student can control the timing as much as he or she wants by choosing when to initiate the process.

    By the way, most people will not be impressed when you tell them what they really think and what their real, unspoken reasons are. Cut it out, OK?

    If your goal is to create a potential Nobel prize winner or Mother Theresa figure through university education, then (as I keep saying) you’re much more likely to do that if the student does not explicitly reject the institutional goals of the university he or she attends. The students who can come closest to reaching their full potential at BYU are going to be the ones who share the university’s vision about the kind of people they should become. The students who reject that vision will be happier, and more likely to earn a Nobel, if they transfer to a university more aligned to their goals.

    From BYU’s perspective, its mission is to graduate faithful and well-educated members of the church. Once a student formally rejects that mission, the university only wastes more of its resources the longer it lets the student stay. Worse, the longer the student stays, the more it normalizes behavior that the university wants students to avoid.

    As far as relevant university rankings, BYU does exceptionally well on its yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll. The students who want to be at BYU want to be there, on average, much more than they want to be anywhere else they were accepted. The integration of a strong religious mission with a university education is very attractive to these students – and that is something that gets weakened by treating disaffiliation as unimportant. These are people who have been learning literally since birth about the fundamental importance of baptism, or whose own baptism represented a profound change in their lives. A university that treated renunciation of baptismal covenants as indifferent or of no particular urgency would be a very different and less attractive place for them. It would not be the beginning of a slippery slope towards a secularized university – it would be the end of that slope, the very outcome one is trying to avoid.

  68. It does seem odd to kick someone out immediately. I’d think it more charitable to let them finish out the semester. Although I also rather doubt that case comes up normally. If you lose your testimony and want to cancel your membership why not keep mum for a month or two to finish the semester? The only reason I could see this being a problem half way through a semester are people trying to make an (ultimately futile) political point or because of other issues such as honor code. So while I’m pretty sympathetic to the “finish the semester” issue I also confess I can’t see it being an issue too often.

    As for why non-members attend. That’s a good question. I believe tuition is much higher and also there are obvious cultural issues. I’m sure things have changed since the 90’s but back then it was mainly Muslims wanting a campus without a lot of secular issues or people wanting to do a graduate degree with a particular professor. (My experience was that many of them struggled with the culture in Provo)

    I wonder how often this is a real problem? My sense is that what’s really wanted is finishing ones degree rather than a semester. But it seems fair for the church to see this as an issue. (Culturally a former believer will have a different effect than a non-believer from a different faith tradition) If legal challenges for BYU to change, I’d expect them to simply jack up the tuition to non-members to 5x or more what members pay.

  69. I don’t know why I find all of this BYU debate morbidly fascinating, but I do.
    I probably said this before, but I will say it again: I did not attend BYU,so I have not experienced the magic first-hand, and therefore I am the most unqualified person to offer an insightful opinion on the institution.

    But my morbid curiosity rages onward.

    So please answer this question for me, and I will go away forever:

    Is BYU first and foremost a university with a dress code?

    Or is BYU first and foremost a religious incubator that happens to also offer college degrees?

    I don’t see how it can really be both. One of those two things has to win out in the end, and based on everything I’ve read and heard I tend to think that BYU would preserve its religious incubator status if forced to choose.

  70. I can’t see how BYU would allow any student who violates the Honor Code and gets expelled, continued education.

    As for those who feel compelled to leave the Church, perhaps timing is everything. Making such a big decision has consequences, and delaying that voluntary decision till the end of a semester alleviates most of the aggravation it would seem.

    Those that feel compelled to rush into making their own exit manifesto, might want to glean a few relevant points from Jerry Maguire…

  71. “Or is BYU first and foremost a religious incubator that happens to also offer college degrees?”

    Its a religious incubator AND a place that offers a college degree. There is no separation of the two, and this often gets criticized by outsiders who insist religious and secular knowledge cannot coexist. Depending on the the class, subject, and teacher the lessons can be a combined religious and secular education. This shouldn’t even be that confusing since the formation of Universities started with religious sponsorship. The idea that education is split into secular learning or religious indoctrination is rather modern. For Mormonism that teaches that all knowledge is religious, I am not sure why this is so hard to understand.

  72. I haven’t yet waded through the comments, and might never do so. That said, I find the conflating of “religious freedom” with a university’s policies nonsensical.

    Religious freedom is a *governmental issue* with respect to political coercion. It doesn’t require some general, sweeping inclusion of any/all religious practices by individuals and/or private institutions.

    Religious freedom doesn’t mean any particular commenter here has to marry either an evangelical Christian or a Satanist. (Or both?) Or even take them to dinner. Or invite them to parties. Or pay for their piano lessons. Neither does it require a private university to accept, enroll, education, or accommodate someone of a particular religious persuasion—or none at all—and particularly not someone who has openly pronounced disassociation.

    Claiming, for example, the freedom for people to participate in homosexual relationships, doesn’t require an particular person to take on a same sex partner. It merely disallows the government from discriminating against those who choose to do so.

    OTOH, I think all the social/economic justice warriors here should be forced to sell all they own above the world average and give to those less fortunate. You wouldn’t want to be a “hypocrite,” would you?

  73. Nate S (73) I don’t think BYU is fully one or the other. Ideally it’d be more of a religious incubator. However while the religion department has improved dramatically since I was there I still think it’s more university than incubator. That said I think BYU goes out of its way to have more involvement with students and professors than is typical at most universities. There’s a lot of mentoring going on I just didn’t see elsewhere (which isn’t to say it never happens with undergraduates – just that it’s more common at small liberal arts colleges). There’s also a strong sense of freedom being able to actually talk religion in other contexts. That’s possible at BYU in a way it typically isn’t elsewhere. Of course there’s a bit of a double edged sword in that some topics are more controversial at BYU that wouldn’t be elsewhere.

    In any case, I’m not sure I buy your dichotomy of it having to be one or the other. Could you clarify why that would be? As I said while I think as a religious incubator BYU falls down, it does have the benefit of nearly everyone being Mormon which perhaps offers the tools for that if people want to make use of them.

    I suspect the one place there’s a conflict is over academic freedom or freedom of speech. There’s simply not as much of that at BYU as (in theory) is elsewhere. However I think the huge controversies over speech at top tier universities shows that the theory rarely holds elsewhere either.

  74. Allison (76) I’ve not read all the comments either (just got back from vacation). Like you I think there’s some confusion over what religious freedom means. Typically the context is freedom from the state. Private facilities can have religious rules. Indeed that’s sort of the point of religious liberty so that private groups can have their own rules.

  75. Clark Goble (77) thanks for a rational & well-worded response to my question.
    The reason I poke at the BYU model is because I see the effect that the university has on so much of the church, whether one attended or not, in my corner of the world BYU has a large effect on the average church member’s experience with the church. So, I’m really trying to look behind the curtain to see why it is that this university has such a big effect on my church experience.

    I really am not asking these things to be glib or to mock those who sincerely seek a better world. I am genuinely interested in why people do the things that they do. And along those lines, I am interested in how & why people in large homogeneous groups self-select & create/reinforce their own particular views of the world.

    I know that I would personally chafe under the strictures of the BYU honor code. I rather enjoyed having long hair, sideburns & facial stubble while I was in college. Those issues alone would keep me from EVER attending BYU (assuming I had a time machine & could do college all over again). Not to mention, all of the self-policing & eating cheese would make me feel as though Big Brother were watching. So, I’m not debating the issue of whether BYU is right for me.

    What I wonder about BYU is whether “the experience” is the result of a genuinely inspired vision that is captured & replicated by each of the participants, or if it is the byproduct of cultural inertia. I liken this question to why young men & women serve missions. Some go because they are truly called & carry a spiritual maturity that is intensely personal & genuine. Some go because their older brother went & because that’s what mom & dad expect – they meet the minimum requirements & there is nothing that strictly prevents them from going, but nevertheless they go. Most people are somewhere in between, some combination of both. Even though both extremes are a possibility, there does exist a statistical distribution, which gives a lot of insight into the institution’s priorities & direction.

    I can imagine that some attend BYU because they feel a true calling to be around whatever environment & program exists there. But I also know that some kids attend because “tuition is cheap”, or because that is where their parents sent them. That is where my questions really come into play. I cannot argue with those who think that BYU is inspired in every way & who loved every minute of the experience. I don’t wonder so much about the people who find it easy to attend BYU. I wonder what goes through the minds of administrators & policy makers who have to decide what to do with the people on “the fringe”. I wonder what goes through the minds of the “fringe” minority who realize too late that they made the wrong choice of Universities – That they are the square peg being forced into a round hole. What do those students do when faced with societal & religious community pressure to just conform & “choose to be happy”? Do any of the staff or administration care about or want to know about what these students are going through on a real personal level? Or are they more interested in preserving the University’s image, such that people on the “fringe” are acceptable casualties? How much filtering out of naysayers & ne’er-do-wells takes place at BYU? How flexible is the university with understanding & shepherding people who find themselves at odds with university policies?

    Again, I realize that this is a complicated issue that involves a huge swath of people with a HUGE spectrum of feelings & motives. Some are just confused &/or hurt, some are blatantly hostile, and a lot are somewhere in between. Unfortunately large institutions are forced to draw lines along which decisions are made, and my fear is that people on the “softer” end of the spectrum get treated exactly like those who are hostile or destructive to the University’s mission. Is the University more interested in churning out “happy Mormon clones”, or does it actually place a priority on taking in those who are broken, messed-up & wounded, and to guide them into becoming whole & well-rounded people?

  76. Someone “drifting off into sin” is not a “catastrophe.” Especially when the “sin” in question is living true to the 11th article of faith.

  77. Alison (76), let me speak on the religious freedom point. Agreed that references to rights generally do and should refer to government action. Private actors are not generally required to respect certain rights, however, there actions with respect to the rights of others are generally quite telling in regards to the degree of respect to which they accord the right in question. For instance, an employer who punishes employees for making certain statement well may be legally entitled to do so, but its fair to conclude that employers with such policies are less committed to free speech then are employers without such policies. Likewise, a private organization that bans guns on its premises has told us something about the degree to which they regard gun rights as fundamental/inalienable rights. I personally don’t regard gun ownership as a fundamental human right that should never be infringed, rather I regard it as a unique feature of our American Constitution. By contrast, there certain rights which I regard as God-given and inalienable, including freedom of speech and religion, liberty, due process of law, etc. The Church has used the phrase “fundamental right” with respect to religion, although I fully acknowledge that they may not use the term the same way that lawyers use it. The Church has also talked about this being the most important right we have. The Church, as a private actor, can refuse to respect freedom of religion (which at its most basic level has to include the right to choose/change one’s religion) and can impose legally permissible private penalties on those who exercise the right (i.e. by firing them from jobs or kicking them out of BYU mid-semester), but I think it makes it harder to accept the Church’s argument that freedom of religion is the most important and most basic human right when the Church chooses to take such actions.

  78. I’ve only read about half of the comments so forgive me if I’m echoing something that’s already been said.

    I repeatedly saw claims of a “breach of contract” when a student chooses to leave the church during their studies at BYU. This, in spite of their continued adherence to the honor code and a willingness to pay a higher tuition which would leave them equal to a non-member student’s contract.

    The reason why I disagree with this claim of “breach of contract” is because faith is not a black and white thing that one has control over like agreeing to not drink alcohol. One’s faith is extremely personal and complex. It changes with new information and new experiences. Sometimes we have little or no control over it no matter how much we read or pray. How can one be expected to sign a contract saying that it will not change, especially for multiple years, when they cannot see the future, know what new information or experiences they may have, or know how their faith could change?

    Forgive me for the following analogy but I hope we can agree that my example is similar to faith in God or a church in that it is something unseen and unprovable. There might be a Santa Claus out there. I don’t know.

    I’m told that Santa is real my entire life by people whom I love and trust. I sign a contract saying I will continue to believe in Santa for the following 4 years; but at some point during those 4 years I learn (from a BYU professor) that the laws of physics make it impossible for Santa to visit every home in time for Christmas morning. I still don’t know that Santa doesn’t exist but I’m really struggling with that belief. In fact, being around people who claim to know he exists in spite of this causes deep psychological problems that affect my school work. If only I could go to class without having to attend the Santa courses or go to the church of Santa on Sunday and teach or listen to lessons I no longer believe in I’d be okay.

    The church’s own essays have information that effect some people differently than others. There is a lot of new information to be had that isn’t taught in Sunday School. There are a lot of new life experiences to be had during University. If you’re able to read the history of the church and come out with the same or more faith than before then that is great. If you’re able to gain faith from the sudden death of a family member instead of lose it then good for you. Not everyone responds the same way you do, however. The fact is that new information and experiences may affect someone’s faith and they’re expected to continue to keep that aspect of their contract regardless. I believe this to be wrong and, has been said, is highly hypocritical of the institution that allows non-members’ faith to evolve them into the church but not members’ faith to evolve them out of it.

  79. Nate (80) I think it undeniable that BYU has a social effect and often experiences there set norms elsewhere. However that to me is quite different from being a religious incubator the way a seminary for say a protestant faith might be. I say that simply because most of religion at BYU is just institute classes with little demanded. People really don’t learn much about their religion beyond a fairly superficial engagement with the scriptures. That, however, might be better seen as just requiring a base level that people should have. Maybe that’s what you mean by religious incubator. But if so, I’m not sure it’s really a good example of religious incubation. Contrast this with say going on a mission which I do think is a religious incubator. Arguably it’s primary function at this stage. Separating out what is BYU from what is mission life might be a bit hard too.

    Now the social norms (whether good or bad) are important, but I think those happen incidentally rather than as an intended focus. At best one might see BYU as a place where youth can see the church functioning in a minimally competent fashion the way it should be everywhere. However since most at BYU are attending very unusual singles wards or very unusual married wards with only small children, I’m not sure it’s as representative as some do. i.e. I see it as best giving a fairly distorted view of how the church runs.

    As for why people attend BYU, being among fellow Mormons and dating are almost certainly the main reason. Indeed even beyond BYU there’s lots of people who come to Provo for that just to be in the BYU environment. (Either to work or attend other types of education – I had numerous roommates from out of state who did that)

    The reasons why people go are complex. I know I went because I was tired of being the only Mormon. (I was the only Mormon is a high school student body of 1200 for instance – and the two years I did release time seminary I had to drive 25 miles across a bridge very early in the morning to do so) Plus frankly I wanted to get away from home. I suspect I’m not alone in that but that there’s also in some communities of an expectation of BYU. I’m not sure that’s necessarily healthy although I can understand it. (It’s true of many universities across the United States that are semi-regional)

  80. David (82) I think you confuse views about fundamental liberties with the right of association. The way you have it any right must always trump association. That just seems fundamentally wrong. At minimum you are just saying you don’t think association rights matter. I can completely think people have a right to guns while simultaneously thinking they have no right to bring their gun into my home. If you think those are opposed again respectfully I think you just don’t value the right of association.

  81. Speaking as a Catholic attending BYU, it saddens me to find that apparently my sole value as a student, or even as a human being, is my readiness to become “a repentant sinner.”

    This article seems to believe that BYU is only open to one way of thought, one way of learning, with no room for exceptions. It’s already been said that ex-Mormons are not bad people by definition, so I won’t reiterate that. I would just like to mention that I have enjoyed my time here and learned much from the LDS and non-LDS students I have met; things about myself and the world around me. I have learned these things despite the fact that my “values and beliefs” are not in line with the Church’s (the LDS Church) teachings. We agree on many things, but we also disagree on many. An example is apparently that I believe that a repentant sinner (thank you so much for describing all non-LDS people as sinners) has as much to offer the world and BYU as someone “drifting off into sin.”

    People still matter when their beliefs and yours are different. This article seems to ignore the value of the 6,984,365,801 people on earth that are not LDS. I hope BYU doesn’t make the same mistake.

  82. Clark and everyone else with first-hand insight into the phenomenon known as BYU, thank you for your patience and shared experiences. It means a lot to me that we can hold these kinds of discussions. It really helps me to get my head around a lot of what takes place around me, and more than that it helps me to shed much of the bitterness and angst that have built up inside of me.

    Sometimes i see the church as a complicated organization with a lot of complicated people trying to simplify the experience of life. So it comes as no surprise that our simplified models of societal interaction break down on occasion. The true test of who we are comes in how we treat each other when the model breaks down and we see its flaws.

    Thanks again for all of your shared insight.

  83. Clark (85), let me try again. I’m not saying that freedom of association doesn’t matter and I’m certainly not confusing freedom of association with fundamental rights. The latter is a specific category of rights, the former is one specific right. Prohibiting guns on private property actually has nothing to do with freedom of association. BYU’s current position seems to be that it’s freedom of association (i.e. the freedom to kick out students to leave the Church in order to better serve its institutional interests, and as noted above I’m not convinced that that action does serve its interests, but I digress) is more important that the student’s freedom of religion. I find it difficult to harmonize that position with the Church’s general position that freedom of religion is THE most important right. It suggests that the Church may well be more interested in securing its own rights and less concerned with freedom or religion generally. I think it may well be reasonable for the Church to not put the same amount of time and effort and money into protecting the rights of a Mormon to convert to another faith as it does into the rights of a member of another faith to convert to Mormonism, but taking that position means that what the Church really cares about is the Church, not religious freedom. Again, that’s a defensible view, it just runs headlong into some of the Church’s recent language around religious freedom.

    From Mormon Newsroom :

    Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the first among rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. It is the right to think, express and act upon what you deeply believe, according to the dictates of conscience.

    Religious freedom, or freedom of conscience, is critical to the health of a diverse society. It allows different faiths and beliefs to flourish. Religious freedom protects the rights of all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, whether religious or not.

    Taking that statement on its face means that we support allowing different faiths and beliefs to flourish, including beliefs that are in conflict with the Church’s beliefs. It also means that we think the right to act upon what we believe according to our own conscience is the first right guaranteed by the Constitution. The current policy is that if someone no longer believes the Church is true and follows the dictates of their conscience to resign, then BYU punishes them. That puts the Church in the position of having to articulate why its completely acceptable for it as a private actor to discriminate but totally wrong for the government to do it. You can still make that argument, but its a tougher argument. The Church’s willingness to discriminate as a private actor is also an acknowledgement that other private actors are free to discriminate against the Church and its members.

    Can I digress to make one more point that is only tangentially related? Generally speaking, whenever one in a democratic society is asserting that something is a “right” or is required/prohibited by the Constitution, its an implicit acknowledgement that that the idea has already lost in the marketplace of ideas and will lose at the ballot box. There are certainly things that should not be decided at the ballot box, but it should be a minority of things. Popular religions should not be able to ban unpopular ones at the ballot box. However, an alternative is to simply make better and more convincing arguments. I certainly believe that religions have a place in the public square, along with the secular. We then listen to everything said the public square, and see who wins in the marketplace of ideas.

  84. William (86) I don’t think BYU is saying there’s only one right way of learning. I think they are saying there are lots of campuses one could learn at other than BYU. It’s really a very highly subsidized university. That, in my mind, changes things a great deal. No one is saying these people don’t matter just that they shouldn’t get the subsidy at BYU.

    As I mentioned I think there are better ways of handling this. But I think privileging believing members at BYU given the place of subsidy makes a great deal of sense.

    David (88) Prohibiting guns from certain private property has everything to do with association. You are taking the position that a gun right entails being able to do what you want with guns anywhere. Likewise you are taking the position that religious liberty entails being able to do that anywhere. But of course that’s nonsense if you stop and think about it. You’ve just not explained why those rights entail behaviors anywhere. Again I recognize you are taking that view of rights for granted. I’ve not yet seen you defend why we should see rights that way. I certainly don’t see rights that way.

    Again, I can be fully for the right to own and use guns and think banks should be allowed to ban guns. And that’s a public business. Once you move away from a public business (i.e. a place open freely to the public) then things are even more different. Again to give fairly obvious examples if someone is on my private (non-public) property saying offensive things I should be able to kick them off.

    What I *think* you want to say is that universities should be more expansive and be open to all ideas. That is the very idea of an university is about being an open clearinghouse for all ideas. Thus to stop that is wrong. But that’s really not about rights at all. Further, while it’s a view of universities some have, it’s hardly universal. I’d suspect most here would disagree with that view of an university.

    I also think you’ll find that when the church talks about religious liberty they mean religious liberty against the state. i.e. the state not imposing on religion. They’ve been pretty straightforward about it. i.e. the right to worship how you want without being forced into certain practices. It’s not about everyone accepting your religion. I think you can extend that to private actors attempting to stop people from exercising their religion. For instance as distasteful as I find the Ku Klux Klan I think it would be wrong for them to be forced to accept Jews into the organization. I don’t see that as an infringement on a Jewish person’s freedom of religion. Now if the Ku Klux Klan wanted to stop Jews from building a synagogue on their private property or wearing a skullcap in public then I would see that as a horrible infringement on religious liberty.

    In this case you’ve just not established what the Church is forcing someone to do religiously. All it is saying is that they don’t want to associate with that person as part of BYU. That’s not force. That’s association. Which is why I don’t see how you keep denying the association angle.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think one can still criticize the Church for being wrongheaded (although I personally agree with them here). I just don’t think the argument you are making works.

  85. Clark, I’m not aware of anyone arguing that Believing Members should not get a subsidy, only that students who no longer believe in the Church (LDS Church) should pay LDS tuition and be treated as all of us other non-LDS students are treated, rather than kicked out.
    I also take issue with the idea of “there are other schools.” I’ve heard this a lot, and by far it’s one of the most dismissive ideas I’ve ever heard. I’ve learned a lot about Mormons and BYU, and life in general from the Church during my time in Utah and at BYU. I’d like to think that I and my fellow non-LDS students have similar lessons to offer. Yes, we could just go somewhere else. But BYU accepted us, we accepted their honor code, and thus I assumed I was welcome on the campus. This “other schools” argument seems to follow the idea that anyone who’s not LDS should not come. Were that their policy I wouldn’t argue with you, but it’s not. BYU accepts non-LDS students, just not the idea that someone could come to not believe in their Church, but still be a good person.

  86. To paraphrase Clark’s very long comments as thus:

    “It’s the money, stupid.”

    It seems many believe BYU funds should only benefit those who chipped in. I disagree with this. I pay tithing and I have zero problem with it benefitting a large diverse group, including non members, respectful ex members, and members alike.

    But that’s just me I guess.

  87. Chadwick I think money is part of it but not all of it. But certainly I think the subsidies matter a lot as does the fact there are vastly more Mormons trying to get into BYU than can be accepted. That is we’re dealing with a very limited high demand resource that is simultaneously subsidized.

    A second issue is that if you let people stay there is the worry that people would simply “convert” to avoid honor code issues. That’s not an idle issue. I had several friends who seriously considered that in the 90’s. (I honestly can’t recall if the policy was in place then or not so I don’t know if their schemes would have worked)

  88. Clark (89), I generally respect your opinions, but in this case I don’t think we are going to have a productive conversation. I’m using legal words and concepts with defined meanings (sometimes what lawyers call a “term of art”) that I fear are going to be largely incomprehensible to those who are unfamiliar with their meanings. The right to restrict guns on private property is a property right, not a freedom of association. The Wikipedia articles on several “rights” are surprisingly good. Go read the one on freedom of association. The basic definition is the right to join or leave a group, such as a religion, political party, or labor union. How is saying people with guns can’t bring them on my property the same thing as joining a group?

    One of the other points I’m failing to drive home is that if you believe a right is truly a fundamental human right, then you don’t really believe it is acceptable to have that right violated. Most people, when pressed, don’t actually regard gun rights in that category (I don’t) because most people don’t support allowing guns in banks or giving guns to prisoners. A better example is the right to liberty, the most obvious example of non-liberty is slavery. Anybody want to make the argument that BYU, as a private institution, is free to enslave people, it’s only the government that can’t take away fundamental rights? And that, my friends, is the difference between an actual true fundamental human right and one that is not. There are sometimes limitations that can be applied even with respect to fundamental rights, but that’s an entirely separate discussion well beyond the scope of this discussion.

    I disagree with you that the Church is talking about religious liberty only against the state. From Elder Hales talk in the April 2015 conference: There are four cornerstones of religious freedom that we as Latter-day Saints must rely upon and protect. The first is freedom to believe. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals, or governments either, for what he or she believes about God. It is very personal and very important.

    It seems pretty clear that Hales is stating that it is wrong not only governments but also for individuals to criticize or persecute someone for what they believe about God. I think its fair to extend that idea to businesses and universities.

    There’s actually quite a bit more to this, but we are already pretty far afield from the original topic and its time for me to move on to something else. Good luck to all.

  89. It’s possible we’re speaking past one an other with our terminology. And I’ll be the first to admit I just don’t like “rights talk” at all as they have deep philosophical problems. That is (ignoring legal terminology issues) I think the terms obscure more than they help.

    More or less what I’m getting at is what we mean by rights. In loose terminology people can think rights like speech, property and so forth are inalienable rights yet limit them as they are in tension with other rights. So a libertarian might feel a right to property is fundamental yet still accept that a court can penalize someone for a crime. A person might see free speech as a fundamental right yet limit that with things like secrecy on nuclear weapons or libel.

    Regarding your final point, the question ends up being whether making religious requirements for an university is persecuting them for their religion. I just don’t think it is while clearly you do.

  90. This kind of reminds me of when Phil Robertson was fired from the Duck Dynasty show for some homophobic remarks during a GQ interview. Most people argued that A&E had the right to fire Phil because they weren’t the gov’t and therefore not subject to the 1st Amendment. They were correct. Some people counter argued that the harsh penalty violated the principle of free speech that Americans believe in beyond its application in the 1st Amendment and that it was a morally incorrect thing to do. Or at least counter to the type of free speech society and culture we strive for in America.

    Interestingly enough, I suspect that the people who argued that there was nothing (morally/culturally) wrong with A&E firing Phil are probably the ones arguing that BYU is (morally/culturally) wrong to require ex-mo’s to withdraw. And likewise, those who thought A&E violated the principle of free speech are those supporting BYU’s right to require withdrawal.

    But that’s just my guess and I also predict there are consistent people here too.

  91. Clark, I will reiterate that if BYU’s policy was that only LDS students were accepted, then I would be on your side. There would be no other side to be on. However, BYU does allow non-LDS students to attend, and has policies (like non-LDS tuition) surrounding their attendance.

    There is nothing about BYU that excludes people who do not believe in Mormonism. The requirements are either the exact same (i.e. Honor Code and religion credit requirements) or adjusted (ecclesiastical endorsement requirements). These policies have already been put in place, and are what allowed non-LDS people like me to attend. Therefore, I’m not sure what “religious requirements” you’re referring to in your argument. It is not required that you be LDS. The only requirements the school has (other than the one in question) are about the student’s character (the exclusions there are for a different conversation).

    There is nothing about the Honor Code, ecclesiastical endorsements, or religion classes that exclude people who do not believe in Mormonism. The policy should simply require that students who leave the Church must change their status to “non-LDS” and pay non-LDS tuition, just as all of us non-LDS students already do. The current policy is not in line with what BYU says are its values, its mission, and it is contradictory to the policies it has already created. This is a lay-up for a policy change. It just makes sense.

  92. Discussion seems to overlook the fact that BYU, established in 1875, has been constantly changing and evolving since the inception. Most comments seem to believe it was hatched whole like an egg, rather than fashioned bit by bit through the years. Whatever is hypothetically laudable or execrable in this particular age, it is certain that the ephemeral aspects will always be in flux. The frequent charge that BYU represents outdated or archaic values is quite ridiculous. Just as implausible is the insistence that the institutional collective which has evolved into its present form should be absolutely consistent and coherent.

  93. Jim (96) do you know the history of this policy? My memory is that it’s fairly recent (i.e. less than 25 years). But I may be completely wrong on this. Certainly BYU may change and this policy isn’t fixed in stone.

    William (95) If conversion to an other faith doesn’t matter then of course you’re completely right. Clearly BYU don’t agree that it doesn’t matter. Why they think it matters isn’t clear to those of us looking on. I think the honor code is a bigger deal than you do, although as I said earlier I also think this could be resolved with pricing of tuition.

    David (93) Rereading my comments I hope I didn’t come off as simply neglecting your view. I confess I’m not clear on your view of rights. I do think you raised a good point about the Church not simply seeing it as a state issue. I’m not sure that entails no limits or tensions with it.

  94. Bryan, sorry for the delay. The spam filter acts in mysterious ways sometimes. I’ve released your comments. Let us know when it happens again.

  95. Clark, I’m not sure why you think I don’t respect the Honor Code. BYU is a private institution and can make whatever rules it wants for those enrolled. That’s not in question here. Yes, the Honor Code states that LDS student who leave the Church must leave BYU immediately, and BYU has the right to follow through with that. What I’m saying is that that policy should be changed because it is inconsistent with BYU’s other policies. Allowances have already been made for non-LDS students in both Honor Code requirements and tuition, and precedent for changes to the Honor Code has also already been established.

    The reasons for keeping the policy either do not address this, or are flat out disrespectful to the non-LDS students already attending the University, and are actively accusatory to formerly LDS students. I have respect for BYU’s right to require whatever it wants, and to follow through with its rules, but this policy just doesn’t seem to follow with what BYU claims are it’s values, and it is in contradiction to the policies it has already made. BYU may have the right, but that doesn’t make it right.

  96. William, didn’t mean to imply that in the least. Just think that worries about people avoiding the honor code seem legitimate worries – I’ve certainly seen that in my own experiences with friends in the past.

  97. Thank you for this well written article that articulates why ex-LDS should be excluded from BYU. I can’t help but think that the disagreement between you (and the Church) and FreeBYU is that you do not agree what religious freedom means. The Church approaches it as an established religious institution while FreeBYU does so from the individual. The institution wishes to impose limits and discriminate based on those limits, while the individual wants to be free of the institution’s limits and discrimination. Which is more important, the institution or the individual?

    The arguments you make are in defense of the institution’s right to discriminate, to control its borders. You refer to religious discrimination as necessary to serve a religious mission, as defined by a religious institution, but not once do you mention religious freedom or liberty as a right or principle. I don’t think I’ve heard a Church leader use religious discrimination in a positive light like this, but I think this is what they mean by religious freedom, the institution’s right to set its borders, not the individual’s right within the institution.

    Frankly, though, your explicit reasons are flimsy. Really, are a few ex-LDS a danger to the remaining 97% of LDS students? Do they interfere with their transcendent purpose (in large part due to the homogenous culture which BYU will retain), BYU’s mission (which is not to crank out graduates who will serve the church, I cannot find that anywhere) or increase secularization? I’m not sure how any of these could possibly be affected. BYU still holds all the levers of power. There is no chance ex-LDS can decrease religious class requirements, the number of devotionals or prayer in class, nor can they increase promiscuity, alcohol, or coffee makers on campus. What is the danger?

    Your implicit reason is, unfortunately, one of the more off-putting aspects of the Mormon Church-its efforts to promote exclusivity, foster an Us vs Them culture, and divide and demonize apostates (no matter how friendly). Your analogy to the military is telling because it implies there’s a war and one must take sides. In war there are traitors, and an apostate is a traitor. They are disloyal and disobedient. The Church demands uncompromising loyalty and obedience and open defiance of these deserves retaliation.

    I suppose it’s natural to want to punish a traitor. And that’s what this policy is about, to punish apostates. It’s not to promote religious freedom (heck, even on mormonnewsroom there’s a video saying it’s wrong to dismiss people from educational programs for religious reasons), it’s not to prevent secularization, or promote BYU’s mission. BYU already accepts and accommodates non-LDS so they do not, in principle, see non-LDS as a threat to any of these. But the Church has a special category for an apostate, a traitor. I think you’ve come the closest to intelligently address this reason, as tangentially as you have.

    These lessons learned at BYU are carried over after graduation. These apostates are family members and friends. Kicking them aside because they have changed beliefs, is this what you want taught as appropriate behavior? These harsh actions speak much louder than any loving proclamations from the pulpit.

    P.S., BYU is a university. It’s not a military academy, it’s not a monastery and BYU shouldn’t be treated as such.

  98. Ken, thank you for your intelligent and well thought remarks. Also thank you to Jonathan Green for articulating your thoughts for this forum. I was elated to see someone finally saying why BYU would endorse a policy like this, because I honestly could not fathom what reasons there could be. I steadfastly disagree with your reasoning for all of the reasons previously stated, but I would like to add that as it currently stands, it would seem that BYU only accepts non-LDS students because we have to potential to be converted. It is not for our intellect, our abilities, our desire to learn at a great institution, and certainly not for our beliefs; it is simply because non-LDS students have a high conversion rate. That is our value, that is our purpose there. To convert. In the five years I’ve attended BYU and the 23 years I’ve lived in Provo I have never been this insulted by BYU or the LDS Church. I have fought for the honor of both in Utah and outside and I will continue to do so because both are great institutions, but I hope I don’t have to explain why I feel I’ve been stabbed in the back. BYU may have to right to have this policy or any policy they want, but that doesn’t make this any less wrong.

    If my assertions are wrong, let BYU show that I’m wrong. Change the policy to simply increase the tuition requirements for ex-LDS students to the non-LDS tuition that all of us non-LDS students are already paying, and have them follow the same ecclesiastical endorsement policies the non-LDS students already do. No one’s asking for free passes, automatic beard cards, or a tequila pool in the library. All this change asks for is for BYU to exemplify the values they and the LDS Church teach.

  99. William King: Nowhere in my post or in my comments do I say anything about non-LDS students at BYU. One of my main points is precisely that ex-Mormon students are not the same as non-LDS students. You may disagree with that point, but there’s no basis for you to say what my opinion is of non-LDS students. As this is a conversation, you could ask me directly what I think, rather than imagining what I think about the topic, and then getting offended about something no one has actually said. It would be both more polite and more productive.

    Alas, this conversation has run it’s course, and I need to close comments now and attend to other matters.

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