BYU Campus

An aerial view of the Brigham Young University campus.

A complaint by the group FreeBYU to the American Bar Association against the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School has been closed after the university tweaked its honor code.

FreeBYU filed a religious discrimination complaint to the ABA in October, claiming the university discriminated against students who entered BYU as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but then changed their faith, by expelling them.

FreeBYU says the university updated its honor code three weeks after the ABA acknowledged its complaint.

In a letter from the ABA Accreditation Committee to the law school sent in July, the committee said no further action on the complaint was merited and the matter was closed.

The honor code changes, according to FreeBYU, include that observation of the honor code is enough grounds to warrant an exception to the university’s ecclesiastical endorsement requirement. The change is included in a paragraph explaining the process for students to petition the Dean of Students Office to allow for an exception to the ecclesiastical endorsement requirement.

BYU Spokesperson Carri Jenkins said the university made some adjustments to the code, but did not elaborate. Jenkins said students previously had the right to petition the university.

The changes could keep ex-LDS students in school, but FreeBYU doesn’t think it’s enough.

“By default, those who leave the LDS faith are still subject to expulsion, eviction, and termination,” reads a press release from the organization.

Brad Levin, spokesperson for FreeBYU, said the honor code change was done quietly and noticed by people who keep an eye out for such changes.

“We are glad to see some improvement, but certainly, not what we were seeking,” Levin said.

Levin said FreeBYU would like to see an honor code change about students’ faith similar to what is currently written about sexual orientation.

The honor code states that same-gender attraction isn’t an honor code issue, but homosexual behavior is.

The honor code policy posted online at policy.byu.edu, dated from November 2015, states students must be in good honor code standing to be admitted to, continue at and graduate from the church-owned university.

“Excommunication, disfellowship, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing,” reads the honor code. “Further, a student is not in good Honor Code standing if his or her ecclesiastical endorsement has either lapsed or has been withdrawn, or if the Honor Code Office has placed a ‘hold’ on the student’s records.”

Non-LDS students can get an endorsement from their local ecclesiastical leader, the bishop of an LDS ward or the nondenominational BYU chaplain. However, the code states that former LDS students “are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement,” according to the Nov. 9 version, the same day FreeBYU says the code was updated.

The changes apply only to the Provo campus, according to FreeBYU.

FreeBYU is calling on the university to further edit the honor code to remove the prohibition on LDS disaffiliation. The current changes, Levin said, open a door.

“Whether or not BYU is going to walk through that door, we don’t know yet,” he said.

In a statement, BYU points out that a similar complaint to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities was also rejected. The commission accredits higher education institutions in seven states, including Utah.

"The Law School is grateful to the ABA for its role in ensuring the quality of American legal education," the statement reads. "In the 43 years since its start, BYU Law has risen to a place among the top law schools in the United States…. We look forward to making continued progress as we pursue our mission of providing our students an outstanding legal education in an atmosphere of religious faith."

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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