Scholar Boycotts Conference at Brigham Young U

October 7, 2015

A well-known sociologist is boycotting a scholarly meeting at Brigham Young University based on the institution’s policy regarding students who enroll as Mormons but change their beliefs while on campus. “My decision not to participate is an act of conscience based on BYU’s policy of expelling any Mormon student who leaves the faith or converts to another religion,” Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology and director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote in a letter to organizers of the International Law and Religion Symposium now under way in Utah. “I have decided that it would be hypocritical of me to participate in a conference in which the issue of religious liberty is paramount when the institution sponsoring it fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students.”

Juergensmeyer said he was unaware of BYU’s policy regarding Mormon students until last weekend, when he was notified by a group called Free BYU, which opposes the university’s policy and has called on other scholars to boycott the conference. Juergensmeyer said that he’s been criticized by some for his decision, and has since released a follow-up statement to his letter saying that there may be “legal acceptance of such discrimination, but it is discrimination all the same, and I suspect that if a university in a Muslim country were to expel a student who wanted to become a Mormon, BYU administrators would regard this as a violation of religious freedom. And they would be right.”

Carri Jenkins, a BYU spokeswoman, said via email that prior to enrolling, all students agree to uphold the BYU honor code, and that “a student who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who formally rejects his or her beliefs can no longer be in good honor code standing.” Regarding Juergensmeyer’s decisions, Jenkins said that “institutional diversity is highly valued in American higher education and is protected by federal law. BYU is very open and clear about its mission as a religious institution. We also strive for academic excellence in an environment of intensive learning and rigor, where students and faculty on a daily basis are exploring, developing and creating ways to make our world a better place.”

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