I recently happened upon some letters posted on the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) website between the various BYUs Presidents and the OCR regarding exemption from Title IX regulations. See the bottom of this post for links to the various letters.
To be clear, I don’t think there is anything scandalous in the letters, but there are some things that are quite interesting and help fill in some holes in LDS history.
Note: This will likely be a sloppy post, but I hope you look past that and instead see what is discussed and introduced. I think it’s better I just publish this post as an unedited post than never publish it because I don’t have time to clean it up.
When was BYU-Hawaii Created?
To be honest, I’m not even sure BYU-Hawaii has a consistent story about when it was created:
- Wikipedia claims it was established on September 26, 1955
- The “Brief History” page on byuh.edu says David O. McKay broke ground on February 12, 1955 and that classes began on September 26, 1955. At this time is was known as “Church College of Hawaii”. It became a university in 1974
- The first two letters from BYU-Hawaii President Alton L. Wade to the Office for Civil Rights, dated March 1989, say “The Church originally created BYU-Hawaii on March 11, 1970 and has since been continuously and ultimately responsible for its operation.”
- In a from BYU-Hawaii President Eric B Shumway, dated September 1997, to the OCR, it says “The LDS Church founded BYUH on February 12, 1955 and since that time the Church has been continuously and ultimately responsible for BYUH’s operation.”
- A letter dated 1998 also claims establishment in 1955.
Why did President Wade, in 1989, claim BYU-Hawaii was created in 1970? I don’t know.
The Proclamation comes in Handy
Recall that The Proclamation on the Family was announced in September 1995.
There has been some interesting discussion online regarding the origins and true purpose of The Proclamation. Here is a sampling of some of the more interesting commentary:
- Laura Compton gave a great overview of how The Proclamation’s origins are rooted in the Same-Sex Marriage battles in Hawaii that began in the early 1990s (LINK)
- We previously mentioned that The Proclamation fits into the biblical tradition of “anonymous literature” that becomes scripture-for-a-purpose (LINK)
- Ziff did some interesting analysis at Zelophehad’s Daughters in a post titled “Who Wrote the Proclamation on the Family?” (LINK) Note: Read the comments as well!
- Guy Templeton at Wheat & Tares asks if it was written by lawyers (LINK)
- Dave Banack at Times & Seasons suggests we might was to start “Rethinking the Proclamation” (LINK)
The Proclamation has been part of several amicus briefs since it was announced which, according to my non-lawyerly understanding, allows the Church to be more involved (standing) in fighting gay marriage than it otherwise would be allowed. The first amicus brief (that I am aware of) to make use of The Proclamation was in Hawaii in 1997.
More than just Gay Marriage?
Most arguments I have read online about the true origins of The Proclamation center on the issue of gay marriage. However, another convenient use of The Proclamation since its announcement has been its use in Church school’s claiming religious exemptions from Title IX regulations.
As you can read in the letters between Church schools and the Office for Civil Rights (below), the university presidents try to establish several things in the letters to be granted exemption by the OCR. I will present just a few of the more interesting things I read in the letters, but feel free to read them yourselves and comment below about the things that I missed!
Establishing a Religious Exemption
The OCR says
Title IX does not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.
So, the Church schools’ letters to the OCR try to establish that the schools are “controlled” by the Church and that Title IX is “inconsistent with [their] religious tenets.”
How does the Church control Church schools?
The OCR lists three ways control can be established (emphases mine):
- It is a school or department of divinity, defined as an institution or a department or branch of an institution whose program is specifically for the education of students to prepare them to become ministers of religion or to enter upon some other religious vocation, or to prepare them to teach theological subjects; or
- It requires its faculty, students or employees to be members of, or otherwise espouse a personal belief in, the religion of the organization by which it claims to be controlled; or
- Its charter and catalog, or other official publication, contains explicit statement that it is controlled by a religious organization or an organ thereof or is committed to the doctrines of a particular religion, and the members of its governing body are appointed by the controlling religious organization or an organ thereof, and it receives a significant amount of financial support from the controlling religious organization or an organ thereof.
#3 is the most important way of establishing control of Church schools. I will, therefore, focus on that.
In the letters to the OCR, school presidents would write what the religious beliefs of the Church are regarding gender identity, chastity, sex, abortion, the family, traditional gender roles and their influence career choices, etc.
After The Proclamation was released all they need to do is refer to the already prepared document (usually “Exhibit A”) that conveniently says all that needs to be said to allow Church schools to be exempt from certain Title IX regulations.
Have you ever wondering why Board of Trustees of Church schools always has a few apostles sitting on them? Have you ever wondered why potential Church school faculty and administrators have to be interviewed and approved by General Authorities?
It’s to establish partial fulfillment of #3 (control) that the Church controls the university.
Have you ever wondered why Church schools heavily subsidized by Church funds (thus keeping tuition low)? Some people have: here and here.
It’s to establish control of the institution by the governing religious institution. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Below are some quotes that I found particularly interesting–most of which attempt to establish that Church schools are controlled by the Church (religious tenents, official appointments from the governing body of the educational institutions, or financial dependence/control).
In a November 1988 letter from BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland to the OCR (emphasis mine):
The Board of Trustees consists of persons appointed by the governing board of the LDS Church and over two-thirds of the BYU operating budget is derived directly from appropriations from the Church. While non-members of the Church are welcome to apply for admission as students and for employment, all students and employees are expected to live according to a behavioral standard that is rooted in the religious teachings of the Church.
In a March 1989 letter from BYU-Hawaii President Alton L. Wade to the OCR nearly the exact same thing is repeated:
The BYU-Hawaii Board of Trustees consists of persons appointed by the governing board of the LDS Church and over two-thirds of the BYU operating budget is derived directly from appropriations from the Church. While non-members of the Church are welcome to apply for admission as students and for employment, all students and employees are expected to live according to a behavioral standard that is rooted in the religious teachings of the Church.
Interestingly, a May 1985 letter from Ricks College President Bruce D. Hafen to the OCR states that “approximately 70% of our operating budget is funded directly by appropriations from the Church. This same letter (the first of all the letters, has several interesting questions to the OCR regarding how to meet their requirements for religious exemption.
An April 14, 1998 letter from BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway only claims “the majority of the University’s operating budget is derived from appropriations from the Church.” Since this letter is post-Proclamation, they are conveniently able to just attach The Proclamation to the religious exemption request to establish religious tenets (emphasis mine):
Attached hereto as Exhibit A is a copy of an official pronouncement of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dated September 23, 1995. This “Proclamation of the Family” makes the position of the Church with respect to matters addressed in it abundantly clear and reaffirms certain beliefs concerning marriage and the family to be principles of Church doctrine, which are binding on the Church, its controlled organizations, like BYUH, and the Church membership.
Notice the phrase “controlled organizations, like BYUH”. It’s convenient that The Proclamation makes “it abundantly clear and reaffirms certain beliefs”. To bad they didn’t have this document in the 1980s when they first requested religious exemptions to Title IX–it would have been much easier.
A similar letter, dated March 24, 1998, from Ricks College President David A. Bednar to the OCR says nearly the same thing (emphasis mine):
Attached hereto as Exhibit A is a copy of an official pronouncement of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dated September 23, 1995. This “Proclamation of the Family” makes the position of the Church with respect to matters addressed in it abundantly clear and reaffirms certain beliefs concerning marriage and the family to be principles of Church doctrine, which are binding on the Church, its controlled organizations, like Ricks College, and the Church membership.
Are most members aware that Church leaders consider The Proclamation (or, at least, its principles) “binding on the Church”?
There is more…
Anyway, there is much more that can and should be discussed in the letters, but I think you get the point.
Not only was the release of The Proclamation convenient timing so that it could be used to more easily allow the Church to fight gay marriages in states like Hawaii, but it was also conveniently timed so that could more easily request religious exemptions to parts of Title IX.
I guess that’s has
revelation guides happen in the modern church.
Links to Letters
- BYU-Hawaii Request dated March 21, 1989 (LINK)
- BYU-Hawaii Request dated March 28, 1989 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated May 18, 1989 (LINK)
- BYU-Hawaii Request dated September 11, 1997 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated October 14, 1997 (LINK)
- BYU-Hawaii Request dated April 14, 1998 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated July 11, 1998 (LINK)
- Ricks College Request dated May 7, 1985 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated June 24, 1985 (LINK)
- Ricks College Request dated November 12, 1985 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated June 22, 1988 (LINK)
- Ricks College Request dated March 24, 1998 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated August 24, 1998 (LINK)
- BYU-Utah Request dated November 17, 1988 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated January 6, 1989 (LINK)
- BYU-Utah Request dated August 25, 1997 (LINK)
- OCR Response dated October 14, 1997 (LINK)
OCR has also posted “historical documents related to OCR’s process for evaluating religious exemption”:
- Smith Memo – October 11, 1989 (LINK)
- Singleton Memo – August 2, 1985 (LINK)
- Singleton Memo – February 19, 1985 (LINK)
- HEW Form 639-A – 1977 (LINK)