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BYU "fundamentally violates" religious liberty, professor says after cancelling speech

BYU "fundamentally violates" religious liberty, professor says after cancelling speech

(KUTV) A professor of sociology backed out of a speaking engagement at BYU's Law and Religion Symposium, citing the school's policy that prohibits students from leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In a letter to BYU'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, told the school that he was unaware of BYU's policy of expelling Mormon students who leave the faith.

"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 towards Mormon students," Juergensmeyer wrote.

Juergensmeyer says he was honored to receive the invitation to speak at the symposium. According to BYU's website, the topic of the conference was "Religion, Law, and Social Stability."

"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," Juergensmeyer wrote.

"Free BYU", an organization that opposes BYU's expulsion policy, said they contacted the speakers of the symposium last week, encouraging them to "take action to reform BYU's policy of terminating, evicting, and expelling LDS students who change their faith," according to a post on the group's website.

According to Free BYU, Juergensmeyer was the only professor to respond.

"In making this decision I mean no disrespect to you, the Center with which you are affiliated, or the other participants in this week's conference. I know that many faculty members at BYU are opposed to this policy and are quietly working to change it. I applaud them, and hope that my decision will be taken as a sign of support for those within BYU who are seeking change. I appreciation your dilemma and admire your persistence," Juergensmeyer wrote.

Free BYU said that faculty members defended the school's policy to Juergensmeyer. In the same post on their website, Free BYU posted Juergensmeyer's response.

"There may be legal acceptance of such discrimination, but it is discrimination all the same, and 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."

UPDATE: Brigham Young University responded with the following statement after a request for comment about Dr. Juergensmeyer's letter

"Higher Education in the United States is made up of a diverse collection of colleges and universities with distinct and unique missions. Institutional diversity is highly valued in American higher education and is protected by federal law. BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution.

Prior to entering BYU, all students agree to uphold the BYU Honor Code. BYU's website pertaining to the honor code explicitly states the principles students are expected to follow. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this includes following the values and standards of their religion. Because of covenants and commitments members of the LDS Church have made, they can no longer remain in good honor code standing if they chose to formally disaffiliate from the LDS Church.

All students must be in good honor code standing to graduate, to receive a diploma and to have the degree posted. All of this is explained on BYU's website and in the application for admission to the university."

Follow Jeremy Harris on Twitter @JeremyKHarris for breaking news, updates and more.

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