Restore Religious Freedom at BYU
This petition had 2,963 supporters
In 1993, Brigham Young University (BYU) adopted an official policy of expelling students who leave the Mormon Church as well as firing them from their campus jobs and evicting them from their housing. The school has since firmly enforced this policy, in some cases only a few months prior to a student’s graduation.
This denial of religious freedom causes students who lose belief in Mormonism or who wish to join another religion to live in fear under the threat of severe punishment. It requires them to carefully censor what they say and write and to wear a facade of belief and devotion that betrays their convictions. They have to manage all this while already enduring an incredibly difficult faith transition. Each year, this coercive condition inflicts considerable needless hardship on hundreds of good students and is unbecoming of an accredited institution of higher learning, particularly one of BYU’s caliber and reputation.
While BYU is a private university and has therefore a legal right to discriminate, it is not absolved of the moral obligation to treat its students with dignity, recognize their adulthood, respect their sincere efforts to follow their consciences, and uphold their most basic rights, including religious and intellectual freedom. That this freedom is a “fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people” is declared boldly by the very church that owns and operates the school, which also claims in its Articles of Faith to “allow all men the… privilege [to] worship how, where, or what they may” (1:11). It is moreover affirmed by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief” (Article 18).
BYU itself, even, is notably active in promoting religious freedom throughout the world through annual conferences and symposiums dedicated to the subject that it sponsors and co-sponsors. It thus vigorously calls upon others to preserve this privilege but declines to do so itself when given the opportunity.
We, as students and alumni of BYU, among others, are disappointed by this inconsistency in behavior and find it to be problematic for our alma mater’s credibility as an advocate for freedom of religion and conscience. We can find no defensible justification, whether based in religion, reason, or ethics, for withholding this right from the bright, mature, and diligent students who fill its classrooms. The implication that such students should be singled out as the world’s only demographic unfit for such liberties is puzzling and even insulting.
BYU is a Mormon school but it has always allowed non-Mormons to attend if they pay a higher tuition rate. Prior to 1993, LDS students who left the Church were simply treated as other non-member students, including the bump in tuition. We and other students who find themselves in this predicament today are asking for no more than a return to this reasonable policy.
The LDS Church has called upon people everywhere to “defend religious freedom”, and with this petition, we are answering the call. We hereby ask that BYU update its Honor Code in a way that restores this “fundamental human right” to its students so that it can restore its own status as a credible defender of that right and end its punitive, counterproductive treatment of those who exercise it.
BYU is undoubtedly an excellent school in many ways. It can become better, however, and we, the undersigned, believe that this change is a crucial and overdue step in that process. The school has had religious freedom before, and it can have it again.
To learn more about the FreeBYU movement, visit freebyu.org.
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