Friday, April 26, 2013

Brigham Young University discriminates against Latter-day Saints

An open letter to the Brigham Young University Honor Code Office.

One can only assume the best of intentions. The desire to make Brigham Young University (BYU) a safe, friendly, professional, and faith-promoting environment for students is admirable. However, the current formulation of the BYU Honor Code results in an inappropriate mix of religion and academics which is damaging to and prejudiced against BYU's own Latter-day Saint students (abbreviated LDS, commonly known as "Mormons"). The Honor Code is counterproductive to its own purposes and goes against the spirit of the LDS faith.

The Honor Code[1] currently states:
Students are required to be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. In conjunction with this requirement, all... students are required to obtain a Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement for each new academic year.
The requirements for obtaining an ecclesiastical endorsement are generous and flexible for non-LDS students, who are provided with three options:
Non-LDS students are to be endorsed by (1) the local ecclesiastical leader if the student is an active member of the congregation, (2) the bishop of the LDS ward in which they currently reside, or (3) the nondenominational BYU chaplain.
Once baptized LDS, however, a student no longer has the option of receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement from the nondenominational BYU chaplain, nor from activity in a non-LDS congregation. LDS students are left with one option.
LDS students may be endorsed only by the bishop of the ward (1) in which they live and (2) that holds their current Church membership record.
Finally, if the LDS student chooses or is forced to leave the LDS faith, they have no option and are kicked out of BYU.
Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement
Though BYU is typically welcoming of those of non-LDS faiths, it is unusually hostile towards LDS students, and imposes special restrictions on them to prevent them from leaving that religion. Presumably, it is the best interests of the remainder of the LDS student body that motivate this section of the Honor Code: it is an attempt to shelter them from doubt and dissent by weeding out "problem students." Its effect is, at first blush, in line with the Honor Code's goals. It censors dissent, creating a calmer environment.

But consider those students who might wish to leave the LDS Church. Surely none intend to do so upon enrollment at BYU. They fully agree to the Honor Code; as faithful LDS Church members at the time, or as converts to the faith during their studentship, these restrictions seem irrelevant. However, at some point, doubt sets in, and a decision is made to depart from the faith. Rather than go through the pains of transferring schools, many instead choose to simply slog through. They must live a lie for the sake of their academic career. The Honor Code manipulates behaviors by threat of academic consequences. If the goal is religious retention, then the effect is just the opposite: jaded graduates come to despise the LDS Church and BYU for causing them to prolong a pretense of belief. BYU offers no way for a member of the LDS faith to leave the church and retain studentship: this very case is explicitly prohibited by the Honor Code!

It is unbecoming of an academic institution to suppress or hide dissenting views. Worse, it is hypocritical for a religious institution to preach, "let [all men] worship how, where, or what they may,"[2] but then threaten academic consequences if an LDS student's conscience dictates a different form of worship.

In summary, the BYU Honor Code has the mere effect of improving the appearance of conformity at BYU, at the great cost of undermining the religious freedoms of its LDS students. Like a bad gang, the Honor Code attempts to maintain LDS membership by threat of punishment for leaving. The effects of this particular policy work against the Honor Code's true goals, and the spirit of this policy is in plain opposition to the articles of the LDS faith.


[2] 11th Article of Faith.


  1. I'm not sure if you willfully misrepresented the policy or not, but it clearly says that 'Former LDS Students' only applies to those who have been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or had their names removed from church records.

    Frankly, since you're getting a tuition that's subsidized 90% by active LDS tithe-payers, that seems absolutely fair to me.

    Luke Ashworth, who played WR on the football team, is proof that your post is totally inaccurate. He served an LDS mission, returned in '08, became a Baptist and continued to study at BYU until he graduated.

    1. I don't see how I misrepresented anything. Those whose names remain on church records, even if they are active in a different church, are considered "LDS Students" and cannot receive an endorsement from anyone but the LDS bishop of the ward where their records reside. The honor code makes this quite clear, and you can ask the honor code office yourself if you doubt this interpretation. See if you, as a member of the LDS faith, can become active in another faith and select one of the other ecclesiastical endorsement options.

      With your talk of "fairness," you seemed to have missed my main points. I argue that the honor code is counterproductive to its own goals, and also runs contrary to LDS belief. Nevertheless, 90% is an exaggeration. Non-LDS students pay a higher tuition (comparable to how out-of-state students pay higher tuition at universities that are subsidized by state taxes). "Fair" would be to treat former LDS students the same as non-LDS students.

      And we all know that BYU bends its rules for football and basketball players, so that is hardly proof of anything. For every Luke Ashworth, I could find a thousand former LDS students that suffered under the inflexibility of this bizarre policy.

    2. I considered disaffiliating in my third year at BYU. I went to talk to administration officials and the honor code office. I explained my situation and asked them some questions. "I came here a believer but now feel that as a matter of conscience I must disaffiliate myself. I assume that if I finalize my disaffiliation, at the very least, I will need to pay the non-member tuition rate (10k vs 2k roughly), but I want to be certain I understand the academic consequences of my decision fully before making it." Boy was I wrong. I wouldn't be able to take classes or graduate, my credits would be frozen and non-transferable to another university, and I could even be evicted for being in 'breach' of a housing agreement that included attending church services. If another religious school like Notre Dame behaved like BYU did to me, towards a student who left Catholicism to join the LDS faith, LDS faithful would be up in arms.

  2. Thank you for writing this! Have you actually sent this letter to BYU yet? I encourage you to do so if you haven't, and I'd be willing to send a copy myself if I could get the right address.

  3. This is a bunch of hogwash. There is no reason the Church should give consideration to those who have turned against its teachings.

    1. Should the church really be so quick to neglect the 1 in order to tend to the 99? Isn't it the "lost sheep" to whom the church should give *extra* consideration and compassion?

      This is why I claim that this policy works against, rather than towards, the church's own purposes and teachings.

  4. I'm a gay student at BYU right now, and this post perfectly articulates my frustration with the honor code. My attitude toward homosexuality (and vision for the rest of my life) has changed entirely since I first signed the honor code, four years ago, and now I'm just enduring the remainder of my undergraduate degree until I can escape BYU and realize my hopes and plans. Every passing month in which I'm bound by strictures I no longer believe in, my anger toward the Church grows; it's gotten to the point where I break the Sabbath every Sunday afternoon, just to express dissent. Usually In N' Out --- everywhere else is closed.

    Another instance of the Honor Code Office discriminating against LDS students: a student who comes home early from his mission must reapply to the school (presumably so that BYU can deny admittance to those whose mission infraction is also an honor code violation). The effect of this policy is that you have to sit around for months waiting for the admissions office to process your submission, which is frustrating when all you want to do is get back to school and move on with your life.

    I was sent home two months early for no clear reason --- my mission president told me it was because I wasn't "diligent enough" in my scripture study, but I'm fairly certain it
    was my sexual orientation, which was common knowledge after a companion read my journal and outed me to the entire mission. Unlike most missionaries who are sent home early, I hadn't actually done anything wrong; or at least, there was no catalyzing event. The punishment was completely unexpected; one day I was a missionary, working hard, and the next I was on a plane back to the United States.

    And then I sat around for months and months, waiting to be readmitted even though I didn't do anything that warranted expulsion.

    This was roughly a year ago, and I have another year until I graduate.

    In retrospect, maybe I should have used my expulsion as an excuse to transfer schools, but at the time BYU still felt like my only option. With my tuition scholarship, it's extremely affordable; transferring schools sounds bureaucratically difficult and time-consuming (I don't want to waste half a year again); and, growing up on the Wasatch Front, BYU has always felt like the only option for higher education, short of the Ivy League. I don't know where I'd go.

    But now, after a year of mounting frustration with the honor code, I'm wondering if I might not be happier at Utah State. Or some random school in California. I often feel entirely alone, even though I know there are a lot of people in my situation.

    This post makes me feel better --- proof that someone else has noticed what's going on. Thanks Dan!

  5. Dan, Tom, and others: we are on the exact same page. Hop over to, share your stories, and join us in our advocacy efforts. President Monson's office should receive our formal request for the honor code reform Dan mentions, tomorrow (