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‘FreeBYU’ pushes for policy change on leaving LDS church while attending BYU

Posted at 9:25 PM, Nov 20, 2014

PROVO, Utah -- The majority of the students walking around campus at Brigham Young University are members of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are some who belong to other religions, and even a few who are lying about theirs altogether.

“I really was afraid,” said Zach, who is a BYU student.

The college senior asked that FOX 13 News not reveal his identity, due to fear of expulsion from the school--which is a private university owned by the LDS Church.

A year ago, Zach converted from Mormonism to Islam, a desire that began during his mission in East Asia.

“That really was the closest to God I felt in my life,” Zach said. “I mean, that was the most spiritual experience I had.”

But the change of heart and religion is a violation of the school’s Honor Code, since Zach was LDS when he enrolled.

University policy states that “excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation” from the church will result in a loss of good Honor Code standing within the school.

“Imagine being halfway through the semester, spending hours and hours in classes and being kicked out in the middle of the semester, you lose all your work,” Zach said.

The concerns prompted two BYU alumni to try to change the policy by creating the organization, FreeBYU.

“We think that BYU would be a much more effective advocate for religious freedom if it was allowing all of its students to enjoy that privilege,” said group co-founder, Ryan Bowcutt.

He and his partners sent a letter to LDS President Thomas Monson, who sits as chairman of the school’s board of trustees, asking that the code be changed.

“Even if that idea has some merit the policy can be improved; there is no reason it has to stay the same way,” said co-founder Caleb Chamberlain.

However, the school stood by its rules Thursday.

In a statement to FOX 13 News, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said: “Students who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have not made promises and commitments that a member of the LDS church has. A member of the LDS church who decides to leave, distances themselves from those promises and commitments.”

While the rule may not apply to the majority of students here, Zach feels it’s excluding a minority he belongs to.

“We’re living these double lives and it’s not an easy thing,” he said. “They would feel safe here. They would feel accepted here, not have to worry.”

FreeBYU plans to continue its efforts until there is a change.