Elder Holland: Rights for all, even Church schools

Elliott Miller
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks at a press conference about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stance on both LGBT and religious freedoms.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland asserted religious rights for Church schools at a time when some faith-based institutions are being threatened and BYU’s own re-accreditation is pending.

Recent court cases have begun to reveal disconnects over schools’ standards on sexuality, as schools in both Canada and the United States have lost accreditation for “discriminatory policies.”

Elder Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said at a Church press conference Jan. 27 that the Church supports anti-discrimination employment and housing rights for LGBT individuals but reserves its religious rights.

Elder Holland said the Church should have the right to continue its policies in “such matters as employment, honor code standards and accreditation at church schools.”

BYU’s Honor Code, which students consent to abide by while they are admitted students, includes a prohibition of homosexual relations.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen discussed the importance of both faculty and students living virtuous lives in his recent inauguration address. “(Inspiration from God) requires adherence to both the spirit and the letter of the Honor Code,” he said. “(It) was designed not just to distinguish us from other universities but to prepare us for elevated forms of learning.”

BYU is currently undergoing an evaluation of its accreditation by The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The commission is an independent, nonprofit membership organization recognized by the federal government as the regional authority for the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The commission’s website states that “accreditation is not granted permanently or for a definite number of years. It is an ongoing status that must be reaffirmed periodically. Every institution is to conduct a self-study and be visited by an evaluation committee at least every seven years.”

05 16:22:31
BYU students walk to and from class on an overcast day. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s remarks about the Church’s right to enforce honor codes at Church schools isn’t seen as a sign BYU’s current re-accreditation is being threatened. (Maddi Dayton)

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities respects the missions of religious universities and that BYU does not anticipate problems with this year’s re-accreditation process. Other universities, however, have not been so lucky.

Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, underwent an additional review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in September 2014 after losing multiple contracts with the city and schools because of the college’s stance on sexuality on campus and its other behavioral standards for students. Gordon College did not lose its accreditation, but it has until this September to review its policies on homosexuality.

The City College of San Francisco ran into accreditation problems in 2012 over differing political ideologues. The city’s case claims the commission allowed conflicts of interest and political bias to influence its decision to revoke the college’s accreditation.

BYU watches the accreditation process outcomes at other faith-based colleges, Jenkins said. BYU’s employment standards and practices are not currently being threatened. “There are no current lawsuits or government actions challenging BYU’s employment standards and practices in connection with those issues,” Jenkins said. “There are not current legal or accreditation challenges regarding teaching in BYU classrooms.”

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is scheduled to visit BYU April 15–17 for its on-site review. Elder Holland said at the Church’s press conference that “with understanding and goodwill, including some give and take, none of these rights guaranteed to people of faith will encroach on the rights of gay men and women who wish to live their lives according to their own rights and principles.”

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