BYU’s New Demonstration Policy Explained

Dear students,

As you have no doubt heard, the Lord has revealed a new demonstration policy for students at His university. This policy is designed to maximize our students’ moral agency–which we define as “the ability to exercise uncompromising obedience in the face of difficult moral choices while not being gay.” There has been a lot of discussion about these new regulations, and we want to make sure that our expectations are clear. To do this, we have devised the following scenarios–each represented by a photograph that illustrates the deep gospel truths of this policy. Please keep in mind that any drawings or photographs of rule-breaking behaviors are simulations only. No student testimonies were harmed to create these scenarios.

Scenario #1

In Scenario #1–“Yellow Man With Sign Rings Bell”–the policy is not being violated per se, nor would permission to demonstrate be required. The man is appropriately dressed with no impermissible facial hair, and his demonstration does not count as a “demonstration” because he is alone, and the policy clearly defines a “demonstration” as “two or more people gather to raise awareness about, or express a viewpoint on, an issue or cause.” As long as the man is a current BYU student, faculty member, or staff member, the policy would not be invoked. The sandwich board, however, would fall under the honor code in requiring that the message presented not violate the CES Honor CodeTM by being “dishonest, illegal, unchaste, profane, or unduly disrespectful of others.” The content of the message, “the end is near,” is doctrinally acceptable (see D&C 87:1-8) as long as no specific date of “the end” is stated or implied (i.e., “The End Is Tuesday” would be false doctrine and, therefore, subject to loving discipline).

Scenario #2

As you can easily see, all of the relevant details in this scenario, “Hippies With Signs” are different than they were in the previous scenario. First and foremost, there are now two people gathered to convey the same message, which makes this an official “demonstration.” Thus, even if the message is theologically appropriate, which this appears to be, the fact that the demonstration is now a demonstration means that it could only occur after the appropriate application to demonstrate had been filed and approved. Furthermore, even if approved, the demonstration would violate the policy because the demonstrators are violating the honor code in at least three ways. The demonstrators’ hair is well below their collars; they both have inappropriate facial hair, and their clothing is gender inappropriate. It is highly unlikely that these gentlemen are BYU students, staff, or faculty, and if they are, they are most certainly in violation of the honor code and their temple covenants. This would be an inappropriate demonstration in any case because of the serious honor code issues, and it would almost certainly violate the policy.

Scenario #3

Scenario #3, “Hippie Holds Court,” is very similar to Scenario #2, though the differences are also illustrative. Like the former scenario, this is clearly a “demonstration,” and, as before, the principal figure is in violation of the Honor Code’s “Big Three”: long hair, beard, and gender inappropriate clothing. Many of the other demonstrators are in a similar state of disobedience. However, in this case, there are young children present who are very clearly not students, making it impossible for this demonstration to be in compliance with the policy. Furthermore, while the eschatological message in Scenario #2 is clearly stated, the political messages of this demonstration are less certain. A transcript of the event has been obtained by the Honor Code Office, however, which reveals the following statements that arguably or clearly violate the Demonstration policy.

  •  “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” This statement advocates changes in inheritance law that would place the university’s financial plans at risk by negatively impacting estate gifts. The same sentiment could be achieved in a less offensive way by saying, “blessed are the meek when they donate their inheritance to a registered 501(c)(3) organization like BYU.”
  • “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” This statement appears to violate the policy’s prohibition of speech that is “violent or harassing” and that “threaten[s] individual or public health or safety.”
  • “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” This clause appears to violate university policy and current APA guidelines by advocating self-injury as a conflict-avoidance strategy.
  •  “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” This is just socialism.

Scenario #4

There do not appear to be any clear violations in this scenario, which we will call “People Climbing Wall.” Though the policy does not permit demonstrations IN buildings, it does not specifically forbid demonstrations ON buildings. All of the demonstrators appear to be dressed appropriately with no inappropriate facial hair or deliberate or provocative immodesty. However, it is likely that a demonstration such as the one portrayed would “prevent or disrupt university functions or activities, such as classes, lectures, meetings, ceremonies, performances, other events, or the conduct of university business on University Property.” It would be unlikely that such a demonstration would be approved during a regular school day or during regular business hours, but as long as all of the participants were students in good standing, it could be a fun weekend activity.

Scenario #5

Scenario #5, “Triumphant Wills,” appears to comply with the new demonstration policy. The participants are all well behaved, appropriately dressed. The male head that we see does not appear to have long hair–or, in fact, any hair at all, which is a sign of extra obedience and building a hedge around the law. The main speaker does appear to have facial hair in the form of a neatly trimmed mustache, which is not encouraged under the honor code, but he does not wear a beard, which would be inappropriate. Everybody we can see appears to be wearing long pants and/or a bra, as appropriate for their respective genders. There is no destruction of property, and the frequent shouts of “Sieg Heil” and Deutschland über alles” present positive political messages and facilitate the learning of a foreign language. The total crowd size of 700,000 seems larger than one might anticipate in an all-BYU crowd, which would place a burden on honor code officials attempting to verify eligibility to demonstrate. This process could be greatly facilitated by requiring ineligible individuals in the Provo area to wear distinctive symbols on their clothing at all times.

Scenario #6

Scenario #6, which we call “Weirdos Wave Different Color Flashlights Around the Y,” is the perfect, primordial, and absolute example of violating the new demonstration policy. That it is a demonstration cannot be doubted, since there are clearly at least two people, and probably, like, 25. And they are all . . . you know. If God had wanted multi-colored lights around the Y He would have inspired the Brethren to install them back in, like, 1916. And they would be good moral colors like blue and white and perhaps wall-carpet brown. Furthermore, the Y on the mountain is a registered trademark of BYU, BYU Football, and the Big 12, and walking around with different color flashlights affects the brand value. And it gives the impression that. . . you know. Clearly, such a demonstration violates the standards of the university. However, because we value free speech and student expression, we will allow registered students in good standing, as long as they file the Application to Demonstrate at least one week in advance, to walk around the Y with any color flashlight that they prefer any day (except, of course, the Sabbath) between 9:00 AM and noon. If you are really proud of your . . . thing . . . then you can do it in the clear light of day. So there, that should make everyone happy.


  1. I don’t think that robes count as inappropriate gendered clothing, so long as there are pants under the robes.
    And Hippie holding court, I think would allowed since it’s a group talking amongst themselves, and not bothering those who are in power.
    Great article nonetheless.
    A five day application policy for a protest? That’s ridiculous, and obviously created to discourage students from expressing their frustrations.

  2. I suspect two students at Heritage Halls reading and discussing this post could be called a Demonstration and would not be approved.

  3. Moral agency “the ability to exercise uncompromising obedience in the face of difficult moral choices while not being gay.” HAHAHAHAHA!

  4. Stirling McKay Adams says:

    Thanks Mike I, I enjoyed the guidance you give. This policy may be part of a formal move to rebrand “BYU” as “BY-CES.”

  5. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    This caused me to look at my own school’s policy. To summarize, it says “Go for it! In fact, we encourage you to give us a heads up so we can help facilitate a safe environment for your demonstrating.” And they mean it. Have always been proud of that attitude.

  6. The policy’s definition of a “demonstration” does not exclude a couple of students having a discussion on the quad, nor does it even exclude classroom lectures. Both of these can be, arguably, examples of “two or more people gather[ed] to raise awareness about, or express a viewpoint on, an issue or cause.” The administration will surely claim that those distinctions are obvious. But the whole point of writing the policy this way is that it gives the enforcers discretion to lower the boom when they want to.

    The policy refers to “the vice president of belonging” as one of the officials in charge of evaluating applications to demonstrate. I welcomed the creation of this office at BYU. However, in this context that official’s title is Orwellian. It gives me chills. Context is everything, and the context of this document shouts the very opposite of “belonging.”

    It’s fine to have a policy that regulates demonstrations. The right way to do it articulates respect for free expression and due process and requires officials to weigh those values in the judgments they make. At the very least, the enforcers ought to be accountable for their decisions under the policy, for example, by putting in writing the reasons for their decisions. There’s not a hint of concern for those values in this policy.

  7. +1 for Loursat’s comment. The lighting-the-Y context of the new policy suggests it will be applied in an arbitrary fashion. If I were subject to Honor Code rules I would assume the policy is “anything somebody up there doesn’t like is banned.” Which is exactly opposite to how protests and demonstrations have worked in my life experience.

  8. Mike, I must admit that I just skimmed your post, but I will come back and read it in full tomorrow.

    But I did read the BYU policy to which you linked, and I must say, as an alumnus of BYU, that I think that the policy is so bad on its face that it actually creates a moral obligation to hold a demonstration in violation of the policy. To hold a demonstration that complies with this policy would grieve the Holy Spirit. If you let us know when there is a demonstration in explicit contravention of this policy then it will he on all of us to either show up or accept eternal condemnation. I’ll be there. Let’s go.

  9. There is a huge opportunity here for malicious compliance.

  10. Ugh, capitalized terms with non-exhaustive definitions—the philosophies of men, mingled with with poorly drafted legalese.

  11. What about a scenariao: Man in cardigan states kindly: “Anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable in manageable.” Would that violate the policy? Or do you have to meet the threshold of actually mentioning some human things, like being gay?

  12. HokieKate says:

    Additionally, Demonstrations are prohibited…in connection with university-sponsored events.

    I was there during the protest/s about Dick Cheney speaking at graduation. It looks like they also won’t have to worry about that again.

  13. They might as well have said that the only permitted demonstrations are holding a candlelight vigil on Monday mornings before 8AM, while raining, carrying signs hand written in water-soluble ink.

  14. This post is gold! We laugh so we don’t cry.

    As someone who adored my BYU experience in the late 90’s and early 00’s, I’m glad my kids think BYU is too cold and want to attend local schools here in Southern California. The environment seems much too stuffy for our tastes now.

  15. purple_flurp says:

    It’s not like protests do much good at BYU, we all know now that the only way anything will ever get changed at BYU is if the football conference/league/whatever threatens to kick out BYU’s team.

  16. I went to BYU in the mid 80’s. Does anyone else remember “The Soapbox”? It was a box and a mic by the WILK. Open mic. It was extremely entertaining. When did they get rid of that?

  17. This was genius. Thanks for the laugh.

  18. Scott Abbott says:

    simply brilliant Michael!

  19. Scott Abbott says:

    Satire is the best medicine and most effective purgatory. thank you Michael

  20. stephen hardy says:

    “Partisan political Demonstrations must comply with the university’s Political Neutrality Policy.”

    Is this true? So a group of students who are Republicans or Democrats would not be allowed to “demonstrate”; that is to carry placards or distribute information on campus during an election? That’s not allowed? Is it allowed at other Universities? It strikes me as odd that students would not be allowed to inform and encourage each other in the setting of a partisan election.

    Maybe I am not understanding it. Go ahead and inform (and embarrass) me.

  21. Roger Hansen says:

    The BYU’s continue to embarrass. The police department, the honor code, the grooming code, the religion department, Holland’s speech, confusion over policy, federal assistance, etc. And now this. We could blame the university presidents, but it doesn’t look like they are calling the shots.

  22. Scott Abbott, maybe you meant to write “purgative,” but if satire hastens our release from this particular torment, I’m all for it.

  23. Driving along the south edge of campus yesterday I saw two young people (didn’t verify that they’re students) with signs supporting Ally Isom, and another sign saying, “Help us get rid of Mike Lee,” meaning that these students are backing a primary challenge by one Republican against another. They were across the street from campus, which makes me wonder, as an earlier commenter did, about what kinds of restrictions advocacy faces on campus.

  24. Turtle, I decided to check out my university’s requirements too. And broadly speaking, we’re exactly the opposite of BYU’s policy. The school requests, but does not require, 2 days’ notice. Demonstrations are allowed outdoors anywhere on campus, and are allowed in two places indoors (provided they don’t interfere with classes or movement). Amplified sound is allowed as long as it doesn’t interfere with classes. (It looks like we liberalized our policies on demonstrations about 6 years ago.) It’s something that BYU could maybe try?

  25. Lily: The soapbox was still there as late as 2004. But somewhere between then and around 2010 it disappeared.

  26. Michael,
    That’s some good, sharp cheddar you put out for our consumption.
    I remember the soapbox too. Always thought it was pretty effective for students courageous enough to use it. Probably the most effective protest medium back then was the editorial page of the Daily Universe.

  27. Seriously, every one going on a date on the BYU campus needs to file for permission to demonstrate because they are 2 or more people meeting to raise awareness, primarily about each other.

  28. Michael Austin says:

    Rockwell, that would be an absolutely brilliant form of protest: everyone at BYU should file an Application to Protest every time they plan to be in a group with one or more other people.

  29. It occurs to me that the Demonstration policy only works in practice if a large majority of the student body ignores it and goes about their activities never thinking that it might apply. That’s largely true for the Honor Code more generally. A critical mass of students objecting (including by flooding the system with applications?), would make a difference. I grew up among demonstrations that looked like mass movements, shutting down whole campuses, occupying buildings, blocking passage. If a quarter of the BYU student body moved together in protest, the demonstration policy would collapse.

    I’m not close enough to the BYU students to know, but I suspect this is exciting for a BCC post but in practice will be read as shutting down the sorts of demonstrations that a majority of students object to anyway, and not otherwise affecting them.

  30. Also relevant and timely:
    “My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure.”
    –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.

  31. Rockwell: Perfectly articulated malicious compliance!

  32. Scott Abbott says:

    Loursat…purgatory…i was thinking in religious terms…a way to get shed of the sins of coercive control…with, as you say, a dose of purgative

  33. Pairs and trios of missionaries will, I trust, apply for university sanction?

    Also, pretty much like Jesus said: where two or three or gathered, lo, the honor code is there.

  34. Does this mean we can’t protest Holland speaking at BYU next week?

  35. When one of my daughters was young, all she could talk about is wanting to go to BYU. As she became a teen, the November 2015 policy dropped, and then the BYU Title IX / Honor Code Office / BYU police scandal broke. The policy forever changed the way she views the church, and the immorality of BYU’s honor code office and administration shattered her dreams of attending there.

    She went on to attend an Ivy League school and has never looked back. I looked up her school’s demonstration and protest policy this afternoon. It is everything you would expect. It encourages demonstration and protest as a critical and protected activity while providing guidelines on how protests and demonstrations cannot interrupt learning spaces, lectures, forums or speeches. The code of student conduct is surprisingly strict and promotes integrity, character, clean living (alcohol, marijuana–even for prescribed medicinal purposes–and drugs are strictly prohibited on campus), and above all the code speaks to the importance of mutual respect and student safety. BYU likes to position itself as a unique institution because of its honor code. It’s not that unique, and its enforcement shames students, can be alienating, and even dangerous to the safety of some students. Beyond that BYU practices questionable institutional ethics, perfects the craft of misdirection and seems to prevaricate on almost every issue.

    It pains me to say this as a once proud alumnus, but I’m glad my daughter didn’t attend; she’s had such a remarkable experience at her school. My son will follow in her footsteps this fall as he heads back east. My oldest children opted not to attend BYU but did stay in-state. It’s kind of surreal to me that none of my children will have attended BYU by choice–BYU was such a critical part of my development and I loved my time there. I was a student in the late 80’s and early 90’s, just prior to Bateman’s rein when so many things started to change for the worse. As one commenter recalled, I too remember the soapbox and it was wonderful to witness brave souls step up on the soapbox and take on an issue. That is a bygone era and I find BYU today to be unrecognizable to me.

    The new demonstration policy is as deplorable as it is absurd.

  36. Today I learned non-Student LDS missionaries are not allowed on BYU campus given their “demonstrations” to raise awareness of the restored the gospel of clean-shaven, clean living, Protestantism is undocumented.

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