Religion scholar protests BYU Honor Code

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The BYU Jerusalem Center takes students to Turkey during study abroad programs, which are offered during Fall, Winter and Summer semesters. Photo courtesy Brittan Herndon.
BYU students walk in front of the Harris Fine Arts Center during a class break. A religious scholar recently backed out of speaking at a BYU religious conference in opposition to the university’s policy on ex-Mormon students. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU photo)

A religion and sociology scholar declined to speak at BYU in protest of the Honor Code’s treatment of Latter-day Saint students who leave the church.

“I could not speak at a conference that is devoted in part to religious freedom, at an institution that seemed to be denying that freedom to its own students,” Mark Juergensmeyer told blogger Jana Riess.

Juergensmeyer is a sociology professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was invited to speak at BYU Law School’s International Law and Religion Symposium Oct. 4-7. Juergensmeyer backed out of the conference after initially accepting, protesting what he called a violation of religious freedom.

The professor is Episcopalian and said he has no ill feeling toward the Mormon religion in general, according to the Associated Press.

Juergensmeyer and other presenters received communication from FreeBYU, a group that promotes freedom of religion at BYU. FreeBYU informed presenters that BYU’s Honor Code’s policy restricts ex-LDS students who initially went to school as LDS from registering for classes and receiving a diploma. Juergensmeyer was the only presenter who cancelled his plans to speak at the conference after hearing from FreeBYU.

Under the Honor Code’s explanation of what constitutes good Honor Code standing, it says, “excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing.”

It goes on to explain that if a student is not in good Honor Code standing, his or her ecclesiastical endorsement is withdrawn and a hold is placed on the student’s records.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins defended the Honor Code’s policy.

“BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution,” Jenkins said. “Prior to entering BYU, all students agree to uphold the BYU Honor Code. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this includes following the values and standards of their religion.”

She said because of the commitments members of the LDS Church have made, “they can no longer remain in good Honor Code standing if they choose to formally disaffiliate from the LDS Church.”

FreeBYU advocates believe that LDS students who leave the church should be allowed to continue attending while paying non-LDS tuition.

Currently, LDS students pay $5,150 per semester and non-LDS students pay $10,300 because a large portion of the funds required to run the university come from tithing donations from LDS Church members.

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