Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was rated the most religious college campus, where "students pray on a regular basis,'' by The Princeton Review. Photo courtesy Brigham Young University

If you leave Mormonism, you have to leave BYU. Now some alumni want to change that.

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) If you lose or change your Mormon faith at Brigham Young University, you get expelled -- much to the dismay of some former students who are pushing to alter that policy.

Why, they wonder, can’t these BYU students be allowed the same religious freedom non-Mormons are afforded at the LDS Church-owned school?

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was rated the most religious college campus, where "students pray on a regular basis,'' by The Princeton Review. Photo courtesy Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was rated the most religious college campus, where "students pray on a regular basis,'' by The Princeton Review. Photo courtesy Brigham Young University

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Activists have formed a group called FreeBYU and sent a certified letter to church President Thomas S. Monson urging LDS leaders to update the university’s honor code “to promote freedom of thought and freedom of religion.”

Brad Levin, who is among three BYU graduates directing the effort, has seen Mormon students who suffered a “faith crisis” lose not only their standing in the Provo school, but also their university housing and campus jobs.

The private school’s honor code is clear on this point for Mormon students:

“Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good honor code standing. … Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual’s name from the official records of the church.”

FreeBYU proposes that if students resign from the LDS Church, they be allowed to obtain an “ecclesiastical endorsement” from the BYU chaplain or their new religious leader and pay the non-LDS tuition rate to remain in school.

Non-LDS students pay double what a Mormon student does at BYU. In 2014, for instance, full-time LDS undergraduates pay $2,500 a semester, while non-Mormons pay $5,000.

The reasoning: LDS families help support the faith’s flagship school through their tithing. Outsiders do not.

So, Levin argues, if Mormon students who join another church or become agnostic, yet agree to live by the honor code’s other standards (no drinking, smoking, coffee, tea or premarital sex) and are willing to pay the higher non-LDS tuition, they should be able to “continue their academic progress, retain their university employment and remain in BYU contract housing.”

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins acknowledged that Mormons who change faiths are treated differently than those who enter as non-LDS.

“Nonmembers have not made promises and commitments that a member of the church has,” Jenkins says. “A former Mormon who decides to leave the church, distances themselves from those promises and commitments. The result is that they are not eligible to attend BYU.”

This applies to students who leave the LDS Church, Jenkins says, not someone who struggles with faith issues for a short time.

“We have a period of time when we work with a student,” she says. “These are handled on a case-by-case basis.”

Jenkins says she has not heard anything about the FreeBYU movement nor received any requests to rewrite the honor code on this point.

Levin, who graduated in 2011 with a law degree and a master of public administration from BYU, began to doubt his Mormon beliefs while still on campus but had to keep that fact hidden until he graduated. His older brother was kicked out of BYU for revealing his doubts.

The activist says he knows at least one current BYU student who has converted to Islam but has to hide his five prayers a day from his LDS roommates.

Levin is not optimistic that Monson will make a change, he says, but hopes the group’s letter and efforts “will open up the conversation in a strategic way for action later on.”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)



  1. I would hope that people will leave the false religion of mormonism with all that
    has come out about Joseph Smith and him saying that there is sex in heaven
    which is not true and sealing his wifes/”spirit brides” and the other nonsense
    the so called “prophet” said wasn’t true! Bible says even if an angel appears
    to you and preaches a different Gospel don’t listen because the devil was/is
    a fallen angel who appears as an angel of light to fool/deceive people just as
    he did with Joseph Smith. Works don’t save us because many non-believers
    do good works. Bible says in Luke 13 that we must bear good fruit and that
    fruit is of Repentance not good works. Only Repenting/trusting Jesus saves!
    Two guys were next to Jesus Christ on the Cross and only one guy went to
    heaven cause only one guy Repented/had a change of heart about his sin.
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We must Repent!

    The polytheism doctrine that all the mormons teach/preach is not true/false!
    In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was
    God then the Word/Jesus Christ became flesh/dwealt among us.John 1:1-14!
    That verse shows Jesus was there in the beginning/not created and also in
    Revelation 1:17-18 Jesus says I AM the first and the last..I Am the living One
    and I was dead….behoId I Am alive for ever and ever so if Jesus was the first
    that shows He wasn’t created/is part of the Trinity/Godhead. We must Repent!

  2. LDS 11th Article of Faith:

    We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may [except at BYU].

  3. The policy, as it is, is draconian. It expels students who, in good faith, come to realize that their beliefs have changed. It evidences no compassion or tolerance or respect for individual privacy. It imposes a spiritual strait jacket on all who enter – forcing them to “fake it till you make it.” This is insulting to all involved, including the university, whose denial of basic human rights is neither a model for other schools nor a reflection of LDS values. It forces us to put an asterisk next to the U on BYU. As an alumnus of BYU, who struggled with doubts for much of the time I was there, I find the whole policy repugnant and cringeworthy, even shameful. Why would a person with evolving religious convictions not wish to be summarily expelled? Maybe because a person shouldn’t be punished for having an honest moment of introspection. They shouldn’t be handed an attendance quota and told to complete unpaid. church callings, as dictated by their bishop, under penalty of having to start over at a different school.

  4. From the article: “A former Mormon who decides to leave the church, distances themselves from those promises and commitments.”

    Members don’t enter into simple “promises and commitments.” They enter into “covenants.” And, as the LDS Church teaches, a covenant is a two-way promise. If either party breaks their half of the two-way promise, the covenant is null and void.

    No LDS person is under covenant for the simple reason that the LDS Church has already broken its half of every covenant they’ve entered into. The LDS Church has done this by lying to members, tricking/coercing/manipulating them into the church, and indoctrinating them as youngsters with the promise that they are the “only true church.”

    Thus, a person who leaves the LDS Church is *not* violating a promise. They are simply releasing themselves from the tattered remains of a covenant that was never in force due to the unethical/immoral/deceitful nature of the LDS Church’s coercive and dishonest ploys at getting them into the church in the first place.

  5. The issue of “covenants” is difficult for more practical reasons. A covenant is a two way promise with who? The LDS member and God? Sounds good in theory, but since God’s participation in the covenant agreement is debatable in the first place, it is reasonable that an LDS person who loses faith in the LDS Church would conclude that covenants were invalid. And what are these covenants anyway? Essentially, if an LDS person agrees to live according to the LDS way of life, then God will grant that person salvation. Therefore, if there is no confidence in conditions of this salvation covenant, how can a person be considered a “covenant breaker”. In other words, we can debate whether God is real or whether Mormonism is “true”, but for the LDS Church to treat people who lose faith as “covenant breakers” is pretty poor behavior.

  6. The students knew going in what the rules were, agreed to abide by them, and agreed to suffer the consequences if they didn’t. My wife was a BYU student, and has no sympathy for these folks. As the article states, the university tries to work with the student. Obviously, some refuse to cooperate and want it their way, despite the agreement they signed.

    This isn’t something that pops up unexpectedly, catching the student unawares.

  7. No one is ever forced to join the LDS Church. No one is ever forced to attend BYU. the interesting fact is this people can decide to leave the church but it seems they can never decide to leave the church alone. You are always welcome back but if you want to make up the rules you better plan to start your own church, or join the church that allows its members to determine their doctrines and rules.

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