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PROVO, Utah — BYU adjusted its appeals process last fall for students facing expulsion after losing their required endorsement from an LDS ecclesiastical leader.
The adjustments to the school's honor code change the petition process for those students if they attempt to continue at the school, but the campus still has a disaffiliation rule that expels students who renounce their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates BYU.
Meanwhile, the American Bar Association last month rejected a formal complaint against BYU's law school filed last fall by FreeBYU. The small organization of alumni claimed the university runs afoul of federal religious nondiscrimination laws when it expels students who violate the honor code by quitting the church or engaging in same-sex relationships.
The ABA provides the accreditation for BYU's law school. University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the ABA did not conduct an investigation of BYU and that the university had been confident the ABA would uphold the law school's accreditation.
A FreeBYU press release this week intimated that its complaint may have spurred the adjustments, and that it is possible the ABA’s decision was influenced by BYU’s adjustments. Jenkins said the FreeBYU complaint had no bearing on the school's decisions.
"Discussions leading up to these adjustments began long before we received the ABA’s letter asking for a response to the complaint," she said. "Given the approval process at the university, it simply would not have been possible to make these adjustments in the time Free BYU is stating. Adjustments to university policies are constantly being discussed and considered."
The ABA acknowledged receipt of FreeBYU's complaint on Oct. 21. It requested a response from BYU about a week later. BYU published the adjustments to the honor code on a website on Nov. 9. The ABA accreditation committee met in June and decided "no further action on the complaint was merited," according to a letter from the ABA to D. Gordon Smith, the dean of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School.
"The matter is now closed," wrote Barry Currier, the ABA's managing director of accreditation and legal education.
On Thursday, ABA spokeswoman Theresa Melton said the matter is confidential and declined to comment.
The honor code adjustments apply to the entire student body, not just the BYU law school, Jenkins said.
BYU students must have an ecclesiastical endorsement to apply to the school. An LDS bishop will withdraw an endorsement if a student stops attending church. Last fall's updates to the honor code broadened the ability of students who resign from the LDS Church to petition for an exception to the disaffiliation policy, which calls for expulsion for students who stop going to church and lose their ecclesiastical endorsement.
For one, the changes eliminated the requirement that a student who petitioned to stay at BYU after leaving the church had to sign a release that allowed university officials to communicate with the student’s ecclesiastical leader. Now, a student can choose whether or not to sign a waiver.
The update also added language to the honor code from a March 2015 change in the school's admission policy, which allows former Mormons to apply for an exception. Previously, former Mormons could not apply to enroll at the school.
The adjustments of the past 18 months don't change the basic intent of the rule, Jenkins said.
"BYU’s Honor Code explicitly states the principles students are expected to follow," Jenkins said. "For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this includes following the values and standards of their religion. Because of covenants and commitments members of the LDS Church have made, they can no longer remain in good Honor Code standing if they go through the formal process of removing their names from LDS Church records. The Honor Code states that students are required to be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at and graduate from BYU."
The policy is explained in the “Withdrawn or Denied Ecclesiastical Endorsement” section of the honor code.
"Excommunication, disfellowshipment or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the withdrawal of the student's ecclesiastical endorsement and the loss of good Honor Code standing," the section states. "Disaffiliation is defined for purposes of this policy as removal of an individual's name from the official records of the church."
Exemptions are rare, Jenkins said. In such cases, the student pays the tuition of a non-LDS student, which is double that of an LDS student. Church tithing supports BYU, so all Mormons who tithe support the university. Tuition this year is $5,300 for LDS undergraduates and $10,600 for non-LDS students.
Jenkins said the disaffiliation policy does not apply to students who experience doubts, only those who resign their church membership.
FreeBYU previously filed a complaint with BYU's regional accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The NWCCU rejected that complaint.
In a press release this week, FreeBYU's Brad Levin said the group still believe BYU discriminates against former Mormon students.
The adjustments to BYU's honor code do not apply to the honor codes at BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaiii or LDS Business College.