Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement"

I frequently observe a comment like this one in discussions about religious freedom at BYU:

Because this question comes up so often, I provide my answer to it here, so folks can link to it in subsequent discussions.

Hi Conner,
Yours is a sensible question: it would seem a student who leaves the LDS church would simply obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from another source.

Unfortunately, however, the honor code plainly states: “Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement.”

That policy is further underscored by the subsequent letter a BYU Student receives after tendering their resignation letter:

Dear student,
Bishop __ has informed the Honor Code Office that your ecclesiastical endorsement has been withdrawn. Since university policy requires all students to have a current endorsement, we have placed a hold on your registration, graduation, and diploma until you are able to qualify for a new one. Effective immediately, you are no longer eligible to attend daytime or evening classes, to register for other courses, to graduate from BYU, to work for the university, or to reside in BYU contract housing. You cannot enroll in or be enrolled in any BYU course that could apply to graduation, including but not limited to Independent Study courses, until you are returned to good standing. Please note that you may not represent the university or participate in any university programs such as Study Abroad, academic internships, performing groups, etc. A hold has been placed on your record which will prevent you from being considered for admission to any Church Educational System school until you are returned to good Honor Code standing. Good Honor Code standing includes a valid, current ecclesiastical endorsement.

The Honor Code Office will work with Discontinuance to remove your classes. If you have any questions please call the Honor Code Office. If you are currently working on past incomplete grade contracts please notify the honor Code Office immediately. When you are ready to return to the university, you must work closely with the Admissions Office, A-153 ASB, (801) 422-2507, regarding readmission requirements.

During at least the next twelve months, Bishop ___’s clearance must be obtained
before any other bishop can endorse you. Your Bishop must verbally notify the Honor Code Office as soon as your endorsement has been reinstated. Also be aware that you must stay in contact with the Admissions Office in A-153 ASB (422-2507) regarding readmission requirements if you are away for a full semester. Because the ecclesiastical interview is confidential, any questions regarding your church standing must be resolved with your ecclesiastical leaders. The withdrawal of your endorsement is independent of any investigation or action that may be taken by the Honor Code Office.

If you have any questions about the withdrawal of your endorsement, please contact your bishop and/or your stake president. Your classes will be discontinued immediately.

Larry Neal, Honor Code Office Director

As I argue elsewhere, this policy unnecessarily burdens the religious exercise of LDS BYU students, and is inconsistent with our own teachings about religious freedom, as well as our own tradition of religious tolerance (think for instance of Nauvoo: we granted more religious tolerance to ex-Mormons and non-Mormons than some would expect, given LDS dominance in civic decision making).


  1. Brad,
    It saddens me to see where your life has gone since our time at EFY. I decided to read the honor code after reading your post. In the honor code there exists the ability for a student to petition for an exception to the ecclesiastical endorsement rule. It makes sense to me that if you leave the church, the endorsement you received no longer represents who the ecclesiastical leader was endorsing. At that point the student would need to receive a new endorsement based on their changed personality. If for some reason the bishop our whoever will not fairly endorse the student, it's upon the student to file a petition explain why they changed their religious viewsand how they still maintain the rest of the honor code. Please don't provide only half the story.

  2. Tyler, did you really read the post? Besides the vague ad hominem attack, you basically restated the quote Brad was addressing, without identifying what was insufficient about his rebuttal. The only thing I see you have added is the possibility of petitioning. I think Brad has laid out pretty well that leaving the church is very much frowned upon by the Honor Code Office -- I doubt they are going to let you petition your way around it.

    I can't speak to whether Brad knew this or not, but he also never explicitly said something like "you're kicked out permanently, no second chances ever." He definitely showed the flaw in Conner's and your belief that leaving the church would be a simple matter of some paperwork and swapping endorsements around. No, your classes will be dropped immediately and you will be ineligible for any university activities until the matter is resolved. Rather cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles are placed in the way of resolving it. It sounds tough to resolve this even between Fall and Winter semesters, let alone mid-semester.

    And that's assuming they grant your petition. Even if you can petition out of it, the whole policy puts former LDS students into their own special category that will make (continued) enrollment difficult, maybe even unlikely. Former LDS are the only named category that is not even eligible for an endorsement (not from their former bishop, or any bishop, or any type of ecclesiastical leader, even non-LDS), as Brad quoted at the top and you seem to have missed. They have to petition, and make a case that they should be exempt from the endorsement requirement that (nearly?) every other student follows.

    Maybe it's happened. Maybe it happens every year. (I doubt we can know, because lack of transparency.) But Brad is right when he says "this policy unnecessarily burdens the religious exercise of LDS BYU students, and is inconsistent with our own teachings about religious freedom." It's a special, extra burden, even if a surmountable one, and I'd bet in practice it rarely or never is resolved.

    I'd be interested to hear about LDS students who left the church and managed to stay at BYU and what it required.

  3. The church is currently struggling on many levels with how to handle former members, whether to expel them, make room for them or somewhere in between. Indeed many accounts are heart-wrenching and can only be described as inhumane (sometimes on both sides). A faith crisis can be exquisitely painful, and can lead to loss of family, friends, community, housing, employment, education and identity. Perhaps appealing to the school leadership's sense of mercy and humanity so well taught in the church may effect a relaxation or modification of the school's policy more than a forceful appeal to accreditation revocation.

  4. Hi Spencer,

    Thanks for the comment. We did "appeal to the school leadership's sense of mercy and humanity so well taught in the church" in November 2014 (see The decision makers did not relax or modify the school's policy; instead, BYU's spokeswoman reaffirmed the intent to continue to burden the religious freedom of LDS BYU students.

    I'm open to other attempts to plead and beg if they have some likelihood of being effective- but as previous such efforts have failed, it makes sense to pursue more promising ones.



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