Brigham Young University Accused Of Violating Students’ Religious Freedom

brigham young university religious freedom
Brigham Young University’s namesake, Brigham Young. (Photo Credit: Charles William Carter/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

The highly-contentious conflict of religious freedom has a new battlefield. A sociology professor who was scheduled to speak at Brigham Young University’s 22nd Annual International Law and Religion Symposium backed out of his commitment. His reason? According to the professor, Brigham Young University “fundamentally violates” the religious freedom of its students.

In a letter to Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Dr. Mark Juergensmeyer, Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at UC–Santa Barbara, stated:

“My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion.

Alas I was unaware of this policy until this weekend when it was brought to my attention.”

It’s true, Brigham Young University does expel Mormon students who leave the Mormon faith. But, it’s a Mormon school, yes? Should they not have the authority to operate the institution based on Mormon ideas? After all, in the Mormon faith, religiosity is strict.

“I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies toward Mormon students.”

Ah, here’s the crux. According to Juergensmeyer’s assessment of Brigham Young University’s actions compared to it’s reasoning behind the symposium, Brigham Young University’s failure of consistency creates a dilemma. That’s the thing. How can a school holding a symposium in which it stresses the importance of religious freedom then fail to provide religious freedom to its students?

Interesting. Juergensmeyer’s letter continues:

“As I understand it, non-Mormons are allowed to enroll in BYU, and they are welcome to convert to the Mormon faith if they wish, but if Mormon students change their religious affiliation they lose their scholarship, their campus housing and jobs, and are expelled from school even if they are months away from graduation.”

And here’s the hypocrisy! It is indeed hypocritical for Brigham Young University to expel Mormon students who leave the faith while the religion in which it operates has an official policy that states:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom of choice and conscience.”

Does this mean that a commitment to freedom of choice and conscience comes with the price of destroying a student’s academic standing?

I understand that Brigham Young University is a private, non-profit school and in no way am I stating that Brigham Young University does not have the right to expel students who leave the Mormon faith. However, it is hypocritical that they do, especially considering that they willingly allow the enrollment of non-Mormon students.

At the same time, Dr. Jeurgensmeyer’s non-commitment to his speaking engagement cannot be a source of controversy, given his reasons, insofar as the institution that is the source of his moral dilemma is, in all effects, a hypocritical institution representative of a hypocritical religion.

Brigham Young University preaches openness and tolerance, but like practically every other Christian denomination, it does not practice what it preaches. It is within Brigham Young University’s rights to do so, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be tolerated by those who do not tolerate such practices, nor does that mean it has to be endorsed by those whose principles stand in defiance of those practices.

If nothing else, I suppose Brigham Young University, at least in this case, has confirmed something I’ve suspected for a while: The religious freedom movement is not actually about the need for religious freedom, but merely about Christians, in this case Mormons, being allowed uncontested religious freedom at the expense of others. But, as we all know, if the script is flipped:

“… I suspect that if a university in a Muslim country were to expel a student who wanted to become a Mormon, BYU administrators would regard this as a violation of religious freedom. And they would be right.”

Indeed, they would be right.

Featured image by GreenwoodKL, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Robert could go on about how he was raised by honey badgers in the Texas Hill Country, or how he was elected to the Texas state legislature as a 19-year-old wunderkind, or how he won 219 consecutive games of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots against Hugh Grant, but those would be lies. However, Robert does hail from Lewisville, Texas, having been transplanted from Fort Worth at a young age. Robert is a college student and focuses his studies on philosophical dilemmas involving morality, which he feels makes him very qualified to write about politicians. Reading the Bible turned Robert into an atheist, a combative disposition toward greed turned him into a humanist, and the fact he has not lost a game of Madden football in over a decade means you can call him "Zeus." If you would like to be his friend, you can send him a Facebook request or follow his ramblings on Twitter. For additional content that may not make it to Liberal America, Robert's internet tavern, The Zephyr Lounge, is always open