Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Evicted because you changed religions? Welcome to BYU, home of the International Center for Religious Freedom Pharisees

"You left Mormonism for Mohammed? Get out of your apartment!"
Can an LDS BYU student who is excommunicated or resigns his membership be evicted from BYU Contracted Housing?

Answer: Yes.

Today was a strange day. It's a bank holiday, and I work for a bank, so I had the day off: which was fortunate, because I needed a good chunk of time to help out my friend "Matthew." I wrote in a Facebook post:

"Know any current BYU Law students or Provo locals that would be interested in helping a victim of BYU's religious freedom failure? A friend of mine is a current LDS BYU student who's decided to change religions. His stake president yelled and berated him in an interview yesterday and threatened to excommunicate him in two weeks if he doesn't repent. 

Rather than pretend to believe, my friend has decided to resign his church records (though on my advice, he hasn't started the process yet). Either excommunication or resignation could result in my friend being evicted and losing his job in November (he lives in BYU contracted housing and works for BYU), not to mention being blocked from finishing out the semester.

I've done some initial research to help inform him about his options (especially as it relates to the eviction), but the poor guy is young, understandably scared, and getting contradicting information from people. It would be great to pair him with a caring, mature, local advocate that can help him get reliable answers. Please let me know."

Here's the first draft of the referenced eviction analysis, rough though it is, which shows how eviction can result from an LDS BYU student's exercise of religious freedom away from LDS orthodoxy.

Matthew is currently enrolled in normal daytime classes and resides at ____ Apartments, which is listed in the 2013 BYU Housing Guide (
http://housingguide.byu.edu/housingguide/pdfs/HousingGuide2013.pdf) as "BYU Contracted Housing." A typical example of a ____ contract is found here (http://och.byu.edu/PDF/2013-2014Student-LandlordRentalAgreement3.pdf).

The contract, in part, reads:

"I agree to comply with… the Residential Living Standards as listed below (collectively referred to as “Residential Living Standards”)... My violation of these standards shall be sufficient cause for eviction." (Contract)

Thus, Matthew's violation of the Residential Living Standards provides sufficient cause for his landlord to evict. One of the Residential Living Standards is:

"to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the BYU Honor Code including abstaining from possessing, serving, or consuming alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, or harmful drugs both on and off the premises of Contracted Housing. Involvement with gambling, pornographic, erotic, indecent, or offensive material, obscene or indecent conduct or expressions, disorderly or disruptive conduct, or any other conduct or action inconsistent with the BYU Honor Code, in the sole discretion and judgment of the university, is not permitted on or off the premises of Contracted Housing. " (Contract, emphasis added)

In the case of excommunication or resigning one's LDS membership records, no judgment of the university is needed, since the Honor Code indicates the loss of Honor Code standing is automatic:

"Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student's ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing. Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual's name from the official records of the Church." (Honor Code)

Disaffiliation from the LDS Church, an action Matthew is considering, is an "action inconsistent with the BYU Honor Code" because it automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing, and because the Honor Code states:

"The term "good Honor Code standing" means that a student's conduct is consistent with the Honor Code."

Matthew's stake president's decision to excommunicate Matthew would also remove Matthew's good Honor Code standing. Thus, either excommunication or disaffiliation would qualify as a violation of the Residential Living Standards, and thus be sufficient grounds for eviction. In effect, a never-Mormon student can live in a BYU Contracted Housing without special risk of eviction, but a recently resigned or excommunicated Mormon student cannot.

Failing this theory, a landlord could also claim eviction on a separate ground: that the loss of good honor code standing constitutes a change in student status. Loss of good honor code standing results in discontinuation of enrollment:

"A student's endorsement may be withdrawn at any time if the ecclesiastical leader determines that the student is no longer eligible for the endorsement... Students without a current endorsement are not in good Honor Code standing and must discontinue enrollment." (Honor Code)

Discontinuing enrollment is inconsistent with the certification of student status in the Contract:

"I am a full or part-time student of BYU, enrolled in daytime or evening classes."

Further, the contract states:

"I agree to live in Contracted Housing under the principles of the Residential Living Standards, and the gender separation policy and remain eligible as a student as defined in this paragraph." (Contract)

Because the paragraph defines a student as being enrolled, discontinued enrollment places Matthew outside the eligible student status. Further, the contract states:

"I also understand if I am banned from BYU, I am not eligible to live in BYU Contracted Housing." (Contract)

Any change in student status is grounds for immediate termination of the contract:

"I recognize and understand that my Certification of Student Status is material to and relied upon by the landlord in entering into this rental agreement and any misrepresentation found
herein or change in student status is reason for immediate termination of this agreement and such other legal and equitable remedies as the landlord may pursue." (Contract, italics added)."

Thus, the Landlord could evict based on change of student status. The termination of the contract could be triggered as early as the date of discontinuation of enrollment. Because excommunication and disaffiliation automatically withdraw endorsement, the discontinuation date may be the same as the excommunication or disaffiliation date. 


Matthew could be evicted solely due to his stake president's decision to excommunicate him, or solely due to Matthew's decision to formally resign from the LDS Church.


  1. "I further certify that I have never been [...] dismissed, suspended, nor have I withdrawn (in lieu of being suspended or dismissed) from BYU for non-academic reasons." I'm assuming this would be retroactively invalidated. Does he have any weasel room on what "withdrawing in lieu of being suspended" is? Ideally they would have to have pretty solid evidence to execute that clause, but in reality someone will probably just give the Landlord a call and tell them to evict him for Honor Code reasons, and the Landlord will comply. I don't know what legal recourse he'd have, or whether it would be timely and affordable enough.

    He might be best off just trying to mitigate the damage, such as negotiating to pay less (or none) of the remaining contract, while moving somewhere else. Maybe ask for a special exemption conditioned on not being disruptive to the roommates and others (after all, never-Mormon students can live there and attend "Renaissance Academe De Hair Design" as long as they follow the rules.) But, we know how they feel about apostates...

  2. Sorry. My closest lawyer friends all live out of state, but please let me know if I may assist.


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