SALT LAKE CITY — The US Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into how LGBTQ students are disciplined at Brigham Young University, a private religious school.
The complaint under investigation came after the school said it would continue to enforce the same-sex dating ban even after that section was removed from the written version of the honor code. school, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. Students can be punished for holding hands or kissing someone of the same sex, a harsher discipline than that faced by heterosexual couples at the school run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints .
BYU lifted its written ban on “homosexual behavior” in early 2020, urging students to come out publicly as members of the LGBTQ community. But the school clarified a few weeks later that same-sex dating is still prohibited, although it’s no longer expressly written into the honor code. It also prohibits things such as drinking alcohol, beards, and body piercings.
The students protested the apparent reversal, saying they felt cheated into coming out. The federal investigation by the department’s Civil Rights Office began late last year under Title IX, the law that protects against sex discrimination in schools.
A university spokeswoman acknowledged the investigation but said in a statement that BYU was within its rights to enforce church policies against same-sex relationships and planned no further action.
“BYU is exempt from the application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Carri Jenkins said in a statement.
The church has relaxed its approach in recent years but maintains a doctrinal opposition to same-sex marriage and sex outside marriage.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed that an investigation had been launched in October, but declined to comment further. As a private religious school, BYU benefits from Title IX religious exemptions related to sexuality and gender expression.
A federal review like this is rare in church-owned schools and typically only occurs in places where there are believed to be potential systemic or serious issues, said Michael Austin, a graduate of BYU and Vice President of Evansville University, a private Methodist school. in Indiana.
“It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now,” he told the newspaper. The new investigation appears to focus on whether these exemptions permit denominational discipline for LGBTQ students even if the behavior is not directly related to education or expressly prohibited in its written honor code.
The school president argued that these exemptions apply and that everyone who attends or works at BYU agrees to follow the honor code and “”voluntarily commits to live their lives in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” according to a letter Kevin Worthen wrote to the Department of Education in November 2021.
In a response obtained by the Tribune, the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office claimed the school had certain religious exemptions, but the department needed to investigate whether the complaint it received fell within those exemptions.
LGBTQ rights have been a major issue for the past few years at the school located in Provo, Utah. A lawsuit filed by several students last year alleges discrimination, with a recent lesbian graduate alleging she lost her job at school because she didn’t look ‘feminine enough’ for her boss.
The institution also banned protests near its large letter “Y” displayed on the mountainside after protesters lit the rainbow-colored letter. Last fall, a high-ranking church leader publicly criticized faculty members and students who challenge the faith’s teachings on same-sex marriage.