ABA Section of Legal Ed considers complaint over BYU Law's policy of expulsion of ex-Mormons
A complaint about Brigham Young University’s law school, which is accused of expelling students who leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and having an honor code that prohibits homosexual behavior, is being considered by a committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar that sets accreditation standards.
Law schools with a religious affiliation can give preference to applicants of the same faith, but they can’t deny admission based on an applicant’s religion, the National Law Journal reports. Detailed under Standard 205 (PDF) of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, the rule also prohibits accredited law schools from denying admission based on sexual orientation.
ABA administrators conducted an initial review of the complaint regarding the J. Reuben Clark Law School and referred it to the Council and the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. If it’s determined that a school is operating in compliance with a standard, the complaint is closed. Complaint investigations about law schools are confidential, unless they lead to a school being formally censured.
“It would be premature to come to any conclusions about whether this complaint is meritorious or not,” Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, told the National Law Journal.
The complaint was brought by FreeBYU, which, according to its website, promotes freedom of thought and religion at the university. Last year, the group complained directly to BYU, and in a letter to FreeBYU director Brad Levin the school wrote that it was in full compliance with ABA standards.
In the past five years, no law students were expelled or put on probation in regards to religious beliefs or behavior related to homosexuality, Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for university communications at Brigham Young University, told the ABA Journal. Students must submit bishop endorsements annually. If a student disagrees with his endorsement decision, the university decides whether the student can remain at BYU, Jenkins says.
She adds that the law school is confident its in compliance with ABA accreditation standards.
“Mr. Levin previously made the same complaint to the university’s regional accreditor—the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. When his complaint was unsuccessful, he turned his attention to the law school’s accreditor, the ABA,” Jenkins wrote in an email.
Levin graduated from BYU in 2011, with a joint degree in law and public administration. Levin estimates that approximately six BYU law students have faced “formal trouble,” including expulsion threats or honor code prohibition, for expressing doubt about the LDS religion or expressing a desire to leave the church. Levin says bishops who lead local LDS congregations figure in with the process.
“The most common experience of LDS students at BYU Law who experience a faith transition is fear. They don’t know what they can and can’t safely say or do, including what they can and can’t safely write in their law school papers since bishops are empowered to expel them with a single phone call, and those bishops’ actions are unreviewable and based on their own private standards,” Levin wrote in an email to the ABA Journal.
Levin says his support of same-sex marriage almost got him expelled from the law school. He says a condition of graduation was that he not publicly support legalization of same-sex marriage. Requirements to get off the law school’s honor code probation include church attendance, submitting scripture journals and giving honor code officials recent photos of yourself, “verifying compliance with the dress and grooming standards, such as being clean-shaven,” Levin told the ABA Journal.
Updated April 20 to include statement from BYU spokeswoman.