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Following the crowd

Brigham Young University changes its policy on homosexual behavior

A student demonstration over Brigham Young University’s Honor Code in April 2019 Associated Press/Photo by Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune (file)

Following the crowd

In November 2015, just months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Mormons took a hard stand for traditional families. Barely more than four years later, the flagship university of the Latter-day Saints relaxed its honor code barring all homosexual conduct.

The change to the rules at Brigham Young University followed similar policy revisions in recent years by a number of prominent religious schools. Some Christian colleges and universities, however, are keeping their prohibition on same-sex conduct in place.

BYU said it updated its honor code to be in alignment with the doctrine and policies of the Mormon religion, which owns the university. Its doctrine on sexuality has undergone a series of shifts in the past five years. After Obergefell, Mormon officials branded individuals in same-sex unions, already considered a serious transgression, as apostates and barred their children from baptism—a rite Mormons believe is necessary for eternal salvation.

At the time, LDS President Thomas Monson said a revelation he received from “the mind of the lord” motivated the doctrinal change. In 2019, under new President Russell M. Nelson, Mormons again amended their handbook, no longer characterizing same-sex couples as apostates. Officials also reinstated baptism for children of same-sex couples.

Previously, the BYU honor code did not outlaw same-sex attraction but did prohibit students from acting on it in any way, including “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” The changes deleted the section on homosexuality entirely.

“We believe that removing the more prescriptive language from the honor code is helpful for our LGBTQ students,” BYU media relations manager Tom Hollingshead said. He did not reply to a follow-up question asking how not confronting students who violate what Mormons consider “one of [their] most important laws” helps them.

Several evangelical Christian institutions have also sought a middle ground between Biblical doctrine and the demands of LGBTQ students. In 2018, Azusa Pacific University in Southern California eliminated a section from its student conduct policy that specifically banned on-campus homosexual relationships. One rationale: Removing the threat of punishment could free students to share their struggles and be open to discipleship, as the school’s student handbook suggests.

In 2015, Baylor University in Waco, Texas, removed “homosexual acts” from its list of prohibited conduct while maintaining it endorsed the Southern Baptist Convention’s affirmation of Biblical marriage. The moves did not satisfy the pro-gay website Campus Pride, which still placed Baylor and APU on its “shame list.”

By 2014, the year before Obergefell, Notre Dame University, Boston College, and Creighton University, as well as almost two dozen Jesuit colleges, had begun offering employee benefits to same-sex partners. The Catholic schools justified the move by saying they wanted to comply with civil laws. The move, especially its timing before the Obergefell ruling, disappointed many Catholics. Notre Dame’s Standards of Conduct policy for students still states the university “embraces the Catholic Church’s teaching” and forbids sexual unions not comprised of “two persons in marriage.” Campus Pride does not include Notre Dame, Boston College, or Creighton on its “shame list.”

The potential loss of federal money weighs into schools’ policy decisions. While President Donald Trump has taken steps to guard freedom of speech and religion on college campuses, past administrations in Washington used anti-discrimination laws to threaten to strip government funds and even tax-exempt status from institutions upholding Biblical definitions of sex and gender. Future administrations could do the same.

In spite of the shifting landscape, a number of evangelical schools are standing firm on expectations of Biblical conduct for their students. Geneva College, Houston Baptist University, and Biola University affirm marriage as only between one man and one woman and prohibit homosexual behavior on campus. Biola Vice President of Student Development Andre Stephens said it’s important to “respect each other’s dignity as God’s image-bearers while continuing to remain faithful to our Biblical understanding of marriage and human sexuality.”

Anti-racism signs on doors and windows at Syracuse University

Anti-racism signs on doors and windows at Syracuse University Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Thompson (file)

Campus clash

Syracuse University’s chancellor lifted the suspensions of 30 student protesters late last month to de-escalate a controversy over racism and free speech.

The trouble began last fall when a stream of racist incidents provoked a tense standoff between Chancellor Kent Syverud and student groups demanding a strong response. Despite initial disciplinary actions that included one arrest, four suspensions, and the temporary shutdown of a fraternity, additional racist incidents continued to plague the upstate New York campus. Since January, students have reported a driver shouting a racial slur at them, other episodes of verbal harassment, and racist graffiti.

Student protesters began a sit-in at the campus administration building on Feb. 17. Citing a campus “Disruption Policy” that bars students from occupying administration buildings after hours, school officials issued suspension letters to 30 students the first night of their sit-in. By the third day, Syverud had decided to relax their punishment: “These students are afraid they will be arrested and forced out of the building. They have suspension dangling over them. They are concerned about being fed. Enough.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union praised the chancellor for supporting the students’ free speech. But the students still say the university has not adequately addressed more than 25 instances of racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-homosexual actions reported since the fall. Syverud pointed to demands students made last fall, the majority of which administrators accepted. He also said the university has allocated $5.6 million toward improving diversity and inclusion.

“We are on the edge right now,” Syverud said. “We need to step back from that edge. I want to direct that first step back right now.” —Laura Edghill

School choice under fire

A group of public school parents and community members filed a lawsuit on Monday in Tennessee challenging the Education Savings Account law that Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed in May 2019. The law unlocks millions of dollars in state funding for students leaving public schools in Memphis and Nashville, both of which have some of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

The lawsuit claims the diversion of funds from public schools infringes on the remaining students’ rights to adequate and equitable educational opportunities guaranteed by the state constitution.

A strong proponent of school choice, Lee promoted the law as a signature education initiative during his first year in office.

Four other states have active ESA programs: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and North Carolina. About 20,000 students nationwide benefitted from ESAs in 2019, according to EdChoice. —L.E.

Winds of change

The Chicago Public Schools Board of Education voted last week to change the district’s annual October observance of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The action aligns the nation’s third-largest school district with a growing nationwide trend to replace the federal holiday with an alternate celebration focused on the role of Native Americans, rather than the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

The Windy City’s Italian American community quickly decried the move as a slap in the face to its heritage.

While Chicago schools will approach this fall’s holiday differently, the city’s popular Columbus Day parade will march on with its usual ethnic flair, complete with replicas of the explorer’s ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María. —L.E.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.


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