The American Bar Association Says It Is Investigating Discrimination at BYU’s Law School

As many of you are probably aware, Brigham Young University is a private school that, while known for being operated and attended by Mormons, also admits students who are outside the faith. That means even if you don’t agree with Mormon theology, you’re still playing by Mormon rules.

All students, for example, are required to abide by BYU’s “Honor Code” — that means no alcohol, coffee, or pre-marital sex. (Homosexual sex? Don’t even try.) You might recoil at all that, but again, this is a private school. They have every right to lay out the rules as they see fit.

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Here’s where it gets weird: If you are Mormon, and you decide to leave the church (because you stopped believing in God), your life is practically over. You’ll be expelled and possibly evicted. Your transcript won’t even be released in some cases, making it tougher to transfer. The pressure is there to keep you in the Mormon faith. Your options at that point are to lie to everybody… or be honest and suffer.

But if you’re not a Mormon and you change your mind, no big deal. They don’t care.

A group called FreeBYU made the case last year that all of this went far beyond what a private religious school ought to be doing. They made the perfectly reasonable case that Mormons who changed their mind about religion should simply have to pay a higher tuition (like all non-Mormon students) and that would be the end of the punishments.

While BYU hasn’t announced any changes to their policies, the American Bar Association is now saying they will investigate FreeBYU’s complaints.

Because BYU has a law school, they have to abide by the ABA’s rules, which include non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and religion. While religious schools are given some leeway on this front, BYU’s policy of expelling Mormon students (including law students) who leave the faith goes above and beyond what the ABA should be allowing, according to FreeBYU.

The American Bar Association (ABA) is reviewing the formal complaint from a group of BYU alumni pushing for LDS students who lose or change their faith to be allowed to finish their degree, said FreeBYU spokesman Brad Levin.

“There’s increasing support and awareness,” Levin said, pointing to a petition with more than 2,700 signatures, “even among faithful Mormons.”

If ABA investigators believe a school’s counterargument fails to show it is compliant, the group’s website says, they send investigators to campus, then pass results from that visit to an accrediting committee.

This should be an important matter for anyone who thinks freedom of conscience is a value worth fighting for. For BYU to force Mormons to remain in the faith, they’re essentially telling them “Stop thinking critically and don’t ask tough questions about the faith.” It’s intellectual dishonesty and it has no place at any university, much less a law school.

Let’s hope the ABA recognizes that, too. If BYU lost its accreditation, law degrees from there would be useless. It might be the sort of pressure BYU needs to change its ways and do the right thing.

(Image via Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr)

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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