SALT LAKE CITY — A group of Brigham Young University graduates has filed a complaint protesting a policy that makes students face expulsion from the Mormon church-owned institution if they leave the faith.
The group FreeBYU says in the complaint filed this month that the policy hurts academic and intellectual freedom at the Provo-based university by forcing students to censor themselves if they question The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“They don’t know what’s going to put them in hot water,” organizer Brad Levin told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They have to adjust their scholarship, their research or whatever they say.”
His group sent a letter to church President Thomas S. Monson in November urging leaders to update the school’s honor code. This month, FreeBYU complained to the accrediting board that evaluates the university for the U.S. Department of Education.
The school is up for a seven-year review in April, and Levin said its policy on ex-Mormon students violates academic and intellectual freedom standards.
Though the school is owned and operated by the church, students don’t have to be Mormon. Levin argues that former church members should have the same protections as those who follow other religions.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins has said that church members make certain promises and commitments and that breaking those by leaving makes students no longer eligible to attend. Walking away from the church or being excommunicated is an automatic violation of the honor code BYU students are required to follow.
Jenkins told the Tribune this week that BYU complies with accreditation standards.
“BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution,” she said in an email.
Students who struggle with the faith but remain in the church aren’t subject to possible expulsion.
But Levin and two other graduates leading FreeBYU say they’ve seen students experiencing a crisis of faith lose university-approved housing and campus jobs. A 2011 graduate who holds a law degree and a master’s in public administration, Levin says he started questioning his Mormon beliefs while he was a student. He said he kept quiet while he was in school, though, after his older brother was expelled for sharing his own doubts.
The accreditation board, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Tribune.