BYU Honor Code Debate

Last week, I came across a news article entitled, Gay Students vs. BYU Honor Code (archived here), which was an editorial showcasing three cases of how gay students were being discriminated against by LDS-owned Brigham Young University’s honor code. I found this article to be interesting since it touched on a few of the same issues that I have with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“the Church”).

After reading the article, I made the decision to share it on Twitter and Facebook (something I do regularly with articles I read). After clicking the “share” button, it asked me to add my own comments to the link, so I wrote the following:

Post-secondary education should be about challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries, innovation, exploring the world with new eyes, and free-thinking. Yet BYU’s Honor Code represses all of that, and is simply “about controlling the production of the next generation of Mormons”

(Note the last line being a quotation from the article itself.)

I knew that what I wrote would be provocative – especially for my LDS family and friends who would be certain to see it on Facebook – but this was kind of the point. I wanted the article to get people’s attention, because I feel that such discrimination happens all too frequently and shouldn’t be tolerated, let alone institutionalized, by a prestigious post-secondary institution. At the time, I didn’t expect to get much of a response from posting it on my Facebook wall, seeing as I post numerous other articles on a daily basis, with only a few comments here and there. This one, however, gained a lot more attention than I could have imagined, and turned into a large 4 day debate.

The primary debate took place in the comments under my original post, while subsequent & parallel conversations were branching out onto other peoples’ FB walls, emails or IM chats. There’s no doubt that I am only aware of a small number of people who were actively reading the debate and talking with others about it in private. I am personally aware of the 12 people who directly participated in the debate by posting a comment, a dozen more who “liked” the various comments, a few who posted independent comments on their own or another’s wall about the debate, and then there are the numerous private emails I received. Needless to say, I caused quite a commotion that seams to have spread like wild fire.

Short of providing a complete transcription of the debate (which I do have, but won’t post in order to respect the privacy of those involved), I would never be able to convey the arguments on either side properly for my blog. Therefore, I’ve decided to simply present you with a summary, as well as my reasoning for being opposed to the BYU Honor Code (as it stands today).

The BYU honor code is essentially a post-secondary iteration of LDS moral standards. It is a code that is enforced strictly, and violation of it will result in suspension or expulsion. In addition to the usual academic rules against plagiarism and cheating, the honor code is used to ensure students dress modestly, refrain from profanity, and abstain from sexual relations of any kind (among other things). Prior to 2007, the honor code did not permit openly homosexual students to attend the school. However, the code was revised to permit openly gay students, provided that they do not engage in openly homosexual relationships. It should be noted that, while all students are prohibited from sexual activity, straight students are permitted to be in relationships and engage in hand-holding, kissing, hugging, etc (just no sexual contact). Homosexual students however, are NOT permitted to be in relationships, to hold hands, or to kiss – this is seen as violating the code by ‘advocating for homosexuality’. That is to say, BYU is okay with you being gay, so long as you act straight. This double standard is the root of the discrimination that is part of this institutionalized school honor code. Though I still wouldn’t like it, if BYU was strictly for Mormons, then I could at least understand the code. However, they’ve opened their doors to non-Mormons, and by doing so (in my opinion) they have opened themselves to secular society and shouldn’t be able to keep such double standards. The LDS Church too, exists in a secular society. They shouldn’t have any power over those not of their faith, and yet they have consistently funded and campaigned in political endeavors such as California’s Proposition 8 (with tax-exempt monies, no less). This however, is a topic for another day.

The article also discussed how it seems as though the honor code is in place as a way of controlling the student population, and prevents them from protesting against the code or any ideology that BYU holds. This restriction of free speech, repression of individual liberties, and adherence to a specific ideology, creates an environment that doesn’t bode well for innovation, free-thinking, exploration, or out-of-box thinking. Though this aspect of the honor code is targeted to social interaction, it will, by extension, set limits to academic exploration and learning, due to students’ fear of punishment. This too, is like that of the LDS Church. As a member, you’re told certain rules to follow, what and how to study, and above all, not to question the leaders of the Church. Its often told that the General Authorities (I love how vague and yet dictator-ish that title sounds) have your best interests at heart, and couldn’t/wouldn’t lead you astray. I have to ask, who would know if they were leading you astray, since they’re the only ones who can receive revelatory guidance? (I’m not speaking about ‘personal revelation’ here, I’m speaking to prophetic revelation) What if God was trying to tell us that President Hunter was misleading the Mormons, and that’s why his presidency over the Church was so short-lived? How would we know? Do you really think his predecessors would disclose that if they knew? If they did, it would cast an even darker shadow of doubt over the Church for its true believing members (TBM). This is one of the reasons I cannot trust a top-down religious authority structure, but I digress…

During the Facebook debate, it was absurdly suggested that innovation and free-thinking is what has lead the world to such ‘evils’ as abortion, adultery, drugs, and weapons of war, among other things. It amazed me to see how one-sided this argument was, in that it completely disregarded all the ‘good’ things that have also been created: medical advancement, new technologies, forensic science, and better communications are but a small sample. I understand that all new advancement can be used for ‘evil’, but advancement is essential to the evolution of humanity.

Another argument was that, because of BYU’s honor code, it is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. There’s no denying that BYU is highly regarded, but there is no way to correlate its success with their strict implementation of a discriminative ‘honor’ code. This claim could even be extrapolated to mean BYU’s status is a direct result of their intolerance toward minorities, but I hope that wasn’t the intent. Status is never a justification for prejudice. To suggest that this discrimination should be tolerated because of BYU’s status, is ridiculous.

It was also argued that the honor code is a contract that is signed by all students prior to admittance into BYU. This argument seems to me to be the most valid, since the student made a conscious decision to accept a set of terms and conditions in order to attend that institution. The article shows that in all three cases, the students who where expelled for violating the code, have all acknowledged that they broke the rules and have accepted the punishment. This contractual obligation is not the issue, however. What it comes down to is that the honor code itself is unjust, in that it doesn’t hold a singular standard for all. Instead, it has tighter restrictions on homosexual students – this is the definition of discrimination. It’s one thing to have a strict ‘high’ standard for all students, it’s quite another to have different rules for some. Therefore, the honor code needs to be challenged and changed for all future students.

It’s also been argued that homosexual behavior (the act itself) is condemned, not the person. This is the whole “hate the sin, not the sinner” philosophy. This argument however, fails to recognize that you cannot separate one from the other any more than you can separate heterosexuals from heterosexual behaviors. (I’m not talking about repression of natural sexual desire here, as that is a whole other topic for a future blog post.) Sexual orientation isn’t a choice, it isn’t a “lifestyle”, it’s an inborn attraction to a specific gender(s). We cannot definitively say that science has proven this, but there are numerous psychological and neurological studies that indicate sexual orientation is difficult, if not impossible, to change. The Church’s ‘acceptance’ of those with homosexual “tendencies” is to tell them that, if they cannot change, they are to live a celibate life. This, of course, would mean forfeiting their celestial glory, since they cannot be married in the temple, nor raise a family. As for those who have ‘changed’ and gone on to marry someone of the opposite sex, I feel sorry for the two of them, as neither will be truly happy with their sexual relationship.

Though there were many other arguments and points made in the debate, what interested me most were the tactics being used by those in favor of BYU’s honor code (and by extension, LDS morals). Personal connections to BYU were brought up, as if to make their position more justified. Advice was given, telling others to find God. Testimonies of the truthfulness of the LDS gospel were borne, as if that were evidence of some kind of universal truth. Suggestions that I should ‘shut up’ and “be careful” were given, as if they had some kind of parental authority over me. These, and many more, are all tactics that I have seen from Mormons over the years (I’ve even used some of them myself while living in the delusion of Mormonism). In a future post, I’ll explore some of these tactics in greater detail.

I’d like to leave you with a video of a current BYU student who can’t come out as an ex-Mormon without losing his endorsement from his bishop, which in turn would mean his expulsion from BYU. You can read his complete story here.

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Posted on 2011-03-16, in Mormonism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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