Monday, May 5, 2014

Response to "Religious Freedom is Our First Freedom"

In case my comment is removed from the video, I paste below my response to:

What a touching video! This three minute clip from the J. Reuben Clark Law Society's channel drives home compelling points about religious people. I noted these:

  • We love what is good in the world
  • We live to make it better
  • We follow what we feel in our hearts
  • We express intelligence
  • We share truth
  • We serve others
  • We care for our families

I would make an important observation here that is relevant to religious freedom as a first freedom: all these points describe those who leave their religion as well. There is a growing population of people around the world who have exercised their freedom of religion by  either changing to a different religion, or by leaving religion entirely. These people share the attributes identified above.

This observation is especially important for the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, since the J. Reuben Clark Law School  (BYU Law) does not respect the religious freedom of a particular religious minority: those who leave the LDS faith. As I and others have amply demonstrated and argued in recent years ( contains some of our writings), LDS BYU students who exercise their first freedom by leaving the LDS church, whether to follow Mohammed or join the ranks of the atheists or any other religious choice, are categorically (1) expelled from the university, (2) terminated from their on campus employment, and (3) evicted from their BYU-contracted homes, The current Honor Code singles out "former LDS" as being ineligible to attend BYU or leave the LDS church while living in BYU contract housing.

As a licensed attorney I have personally given legal advice to just such a victim of BYU's active persecution of a religious minority in its community. In 2013, this young man "followed what he felt in his heart," to use the video's language, and formally left the LDS church. Within a week the Honor Code office expelled him from the university, terminated his on-campus employment, and directed the young man's landlord to begin the process leading to the young man's eviction from his apartment (which the landlord proceeded to do- in violation of the Fair Housing Act, but that's another post). Ironically, the video cites a housing authority "giving the boot" and driving religious groups off campus, yet these are precisely the behaviors BYU enacts today on the unpopular religious minority that is former-LDS students. This stands in bitter contrast to the video's call that individuals enjoy the "freedom to think, to act, to follow our beliefs, to speak out." Even law students at BYU Law must muzzle their true religious beliefs on pain of expulsion from the law school, as they are subject to the same policy. 

As a member of the JRCLS, I hope that more JRCLS members will join me in encouraging BYU to reform its policy to reflect the LDS commitment to religious freedom. There are few things more unsightly than an institution that loudly talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk within its own walls. I'm convinced we can do far better. 

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