In defense of BYU's honor code

BYU's stringent honor code is being wrongly applied to allegations of sexual assault. That doesn't mean BYU should get rid of the code altogether.

A controversial code of honor at Brigham Young University is being reconsidered.
(Image credit: iStock)

This is not the kind of scandal that any university wants to endure — with allegations of systematic, institutionalized callousness toward victims of sexual assault publicized nationally (and internationally) in newspapers and on public radio. But when the college is Brigham Young University — the largest religious university in the United States (excluding online students), and a school owned and operated by the morally and politically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the scandal has the potential to shake the institution to its core.

The details are complex but the implications are clear. A group of BYU students has accused the university of responding to allegations of sexual assault against female students, in part, by referring the students making the allegations to the school's honor code office for investigation. All students (and faculty and staff) at BYU agree to abide by the code. It stipulates that students will live morally upstanding lives while in attendance. This includes abstaining from alcohol and drugs, premarital intercourse, and even visiting the bedroom of a member of the opposite sex. A substantiated violation of the honor code can be grounds for expulsion. (I agreed to abide by the standards specified in the honor code myself when I taught at BYU for two years in the late 1990s as a non-Mormon visiting assistant professor of political science.)

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Damon Linker

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at He is also a former contributing editor at The New Republic and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.