Atheist at Brigham Young University Leaves School and Submits Resignation Letter to Church

Earlier this month, Curtis Penfold was a student at Brigham Young University hiding his doubts about faith. But last week, he submitted his resignation letter to the Mormon church (and therefore BYU) and posted it publicly for all to see.

The word above it couldn’t be more perfect

It all began when Curtis’ stake (kind of like the head of a local Catholic diocese) summoned him into his office after receiving, from an anonymous source, a collection of Curtis’ online writings — like a post he wrote claiming the LDS church was sexist:

Here was a man who had my entire future in his hands. If he didn’t like me, he could kick me out of my school, my job, and my housing. I was already seriously considering leaving BYU and the LDS Church after this semester.

President [Bart] MacKay had received a portfolio from an anonymous source that contained much of my online activity. My bishop and the honor code office also received the same portfolio from the same anonymous source.

He called me a covenant breaker for writing about the temple, and whenever I would try to express how I was feeling, he said he couldn’t believe a word I said because of it. He’d cut me off any times I’d try to express myself. He’d tell me why I did what I did instead of letting me explain myself. He raised his voice to me. He compared me to Korihor multiple times. At one point he even compared me to a criminal on the stand.

Korihor is the Mormon version of the anti-Christ. So… that’s pleasant.

Thankfully, none of MacKay’s words were enough to stop Curtis from following his mind:

I decided right then and there that I would drop out of BYU, quit my work, look for new housing, and resign from the LDS Church. I was going to do this so that I wouldn’t be like self-serving Korihor with his fake repentance.

I don’t want to be like Korihor. I don’t want to justify lying any longer. I want to live up to my ideals even under the threat of losing everything. And I want to leave the LDS Church and everything that comes with it, including my school, work, and housing so that I can be the master of my own destiny.

Good for him. You should read his resignation letter. It’s a beauty.

I had a chance to speak with Curtis last night — the same day he received his eviction notice from his “BYU-approved” alcohol-free, sex-free, coffee-free apartment. (The contract states “I also understand if I am banned from BYU, I am not eligible to live in BYU Contracted Housing.”)

As Curtis wrote in his post, it was likely that he would have been “disfellowshipped” in a matter of weeks if he didn’t repent for his beliefs and actions. And since he had no intention of doing that, he decided to be honest and stop the charade now.

I asked Curtis what the response had been like since he posted his resignation letter online. He said his “excellent friends” have been great, helping him find a place to live and expressing their support for him throughout the ordeal. His family has been pretty critical of him, but they’ve been that way for a while, ever since he returned from his mission trip a year ago and began getting involved in LGBT activism (as a straight ally).

For the time being, Curtis plans to look for work and then apply to a nearby secular college to finish off his bachelor’s degree.

Some of you may hear his story and think, “Well, it’s BYU. It’s a private religious school. What did you really expect?” But Curtis pointed out that many students, like him, come into BYU as believers. A major problem with a school like BYU is that it doesn’t allow anyone to change his mind about faith without disrupting his entire life in the process. Once they find out you’re an atheist, you’re no longer allowed to work at your campus job, you’re kicked out of school, and you’re banned from BYU-approved housing. For an institution of higher learning — even a religious one — to adhere to such an unjust policy makes it all the more difficult for students to really explore their beliefs and ask the tough questions. And shouldn’t that be what college is really about?

More than anything else, Curtis just didn’t want other people to go through what he went through, which is why he told his story. He also invited anyone to contact him if they had any questions.

Or, you know, happened to be a closeted atheist at BYU and needed some advice.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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