Scholar boycotts Religious Freedom Conference held by university denying religious freedom.


If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you pay about $2500 a semester for tuition and fees to attend Brigham Young University – Provo. If you are non-LDS your tuition and fees are about $5000. But if you enter BYU LDS and loose or change your faith, your tuition and fees are reduced to $0 rather than paying the non-LDS rate. Because BYU expels such students, evicts them from student housing and fires them from campus jobs. One would rightly argue that religious freedom would allow an institution such as BYU to make its own rules regarding its student body and continued admission to the university, but for some, its policy and its hosting an annual conference on Religious Freedom seems disingenuous.

A well-known scholar in the field of religious freedom chose at the last minute not to attend the conference when he was notified of the university’s policy. Dr Mark Juergensmeyer had been invited to speak at the  Twenty-second Annual International Law and Religion Symposium. His faculty profile at the University of California , Berkley lists him as director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, professor of sociology, and affiliate professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is an expert on religious violence, conflict resolution and South Asian religion and politics, and has published more than three hundred articles and twenty books.

He had originally been invited to make a presentation at the 21st Annual Symposium in 2014, but couldn’t accept due to scheduling conflicts. His schedule for 2015 allowed him one day at this year’s symposium. He was scheduled to speak this past Wednesday, 7 OCT. But he cancelled his attendance and presentation last Saturday. Just prior to cancelling he had received communication from the group Free BYU, alerting him to the BYU policy regarding former LDS students on campus and requesting he not attend the Symposium. Free BYU had contacted all of the guests invited to the Symposium and Dr Juergensmeyer appears to be the only guest among 90 leading scholars, jurists, and political and civil society leaders from 40 countries who chose, as a matter of conscience, not to participate.

Latter-day Saints and the LDS Church are proud of their reputation of being honest, just and sincere people. BYU sponsors events centered around religious freedom for others. However, the Church’s policies towards it own membership, or in this case former members, at times appears to be very unjust. At a time when they perhaps need the understanding of their former church most, BYU abandons young adults who loose their faith and throws them out on their ear. But simultaneously, is placing calculated pressure on non-LDS students, who choose to attend BYU, to convert to the LDS faith.

The policy is of course legal, but is it moral?

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JC Fisher
JC Fisher

Been a fan of Mark J for decades. I would expect nothing less than his standing on principle (a principle that BYU should actually practice, instead of just blathering about).

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