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California Professor Cancels Religious Freedom Speech at BYU

SALT LAKE CITY — A California professor who was set to speak at Brigham Young University canceled after learning how the school treats Mormon students who lose their faith.

Mark Juergensmeyer, a University of California, Santa Barbara sociology professor, said he takes issue with the school’s policy of expelling Mormon students who change their faith or forcing them to hide it, reported the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Universities are meant to encourage free inquiry,” said Juergensmeyer, who was scheduled to speak at the school’s International Law and Religion Symposium. “To sully that with the kind of intimidation this provides,” he said, referring to the private school’s policy, “it’s inappropriate for an institution of higher education.”

The professor is Episcopalian and said he has no ill feeling toward the Mormon religion in general.

A group called FreeBYU notified Juergensmeyer and other speakers of the policy last week. FreeBYU is made up of former students and others who want Mormons to be allowed to stay in the school after leaving the religion.

“It’s kind of a weird non sequitur, to be a proponent of religious freedom but to deny it to your students,” said group spokesman and BYU graduate Caleb Chamberlain.

FreeBYU says students who leave the faith should be allowed to get an “ecclesiastical endorsement” from a religious leader and pay the higher, non-Mormon tuition to stay in school.

Mormon students pay half as much as non-Mormons to attend BYU. The rationale is that Mormon families support the school through church tithes.

Associate Director of BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies says the school has a right to determine its membership as a faith-based institution.

She said Juergensmeyer was the only scheduled speaker to call off an appearance.

“What can I say? We respect his point of view,” she said. “We support the right of all individuals to honor their conscience.”

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