BYU to review 'die-in'

5 students at gay-awareness march may face expulsion

Published: Wednesday, May 10 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

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PROVO — The Honor Code Office at Brigham Young University is conducting a review of the actions of five students who participated in a gay-awareness demonstration on campus last month.

Meanwhile, a deal appears imminent in the court case surrounding 29 people arrested during the two-day visit to BYU by the Soulforce Equality Riders.

A local attorney representing Soulforce told a 4th District judge in Provo on Tuesday that he has a tentative agreement with a Provo city prosecutor to have his clients plead guilty to an infraction and each pay a $200 fine.

Three of the Riders were arrested on April 10, along with the parents of the Riders' co-director, for attempting to make speeches on campus.

The other 24 arrested included four BYU students and two former students, BYU Police Capt. Mike Harroun said. They were arrested April 11 when they staged a campus die-in, a protest that consists of falling to the ground as if dead.

"The trick now will be getting ahold of all 29 and getting them to agree (to the plea arrangement)," attorney Scott Williams told Judge Claudia Laycock.

The 29 are charged with violation of a university rule for failing to leave campus as directed, a class C misdemeanor.

Laycock ordered Williams to provide the defendants with a statement of their rights and required a form be created for each to agree to the deal.

The Honor Code Office review, confirmed by BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins, could clear the students or result in punishments that possibly could include expulsions.

"We were supposed to find out (Tuesday)," said Lauren Jackson, a freshman from Baxter, Tenn., "but none of us heard."

Jackson is taking spring classes while she awaits the decision. The other students arrested were Alexander Liberato, 22, Matthew Kulisch, 24, and Timothy Burt, 18. Kulisch told media he is gay and Jackson worried that could lead to a more severe punishment.

"I'm mainly just nervous for Matt, the individual who came out," she said. "He's at the highest risk, I think."

Jackson and Liberato participated in the demonstration to urge other students and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, to avoid treating gays harshly.

"I feel like (the Honor Code Office reviewers) were very receptive to my message," Jackson said. "I participated to raise awareness or increased understanding for individuals who suffer from problems because individuals isolate or mistreat them."

Haven Herrin, co-director of the Equality Ride and coordinator of the BYU stop, said she understood a fifth student, who marched with the group at BYU but did not participate in the die-in, was under review for a possible honor code violation.

Jackson confirmed that and BYU's Jenkins said five students who participated were under review.

Herrin said the results of the review will carry weight beyond the fate of five student careers at BYU.

"Whatever stand BYU takes will more clearly define where the university stands," she said. "Many of the students I spoke to are not clear on BYU's stance regarding the treatment of gay people or of the church's policy. This will probably be a defining moment for them."

Jenkins expressed surprise at Herrin's statement.

"I was there when they were mingling amongst our students and overheard conversations and our students explained our honor code very accurately," Jenkins said.

Soulforce alleged wrongly in a press release after the BYU arrests that BYU does not allow gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual students to enroll. The honor code does not ban those students, but bans sexual activity outside marriage and advocacy of a gay lifestyle.

"The honor code is directed toward behavior, not orientation," Jenkins said.

Soulforce activists were arrested a total of 99 times during the five-week Equality Ride, which stopped at 19 Christian colleges and universities or military academies and at a conference of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Arrests were made at six schools — BYU, Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University, Oral Roberts University and two military academies, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The Equality Ride cost approximately $250,000, Herrin said. The group is still trying to raise the last $50,000. Part of the money will pay for fines for those arrested, including those of the BYU students.

Fines have averaged about $225 in the six cities where arrests were made, Herrin said, and the group likely will accept the Provo offer.

None of the Riders or those who were arrested with them spent any time in jail. Herrin said the toughest legal punishment so far is in Virginia, where Ride co-director Jacob Reitan and adviser Bill Carpenter appear ready to accept offers of six-month suspended sentences for their roles in the protest at Liberty University.

Soulforce was founded in 1999 by Mel White, a ghostwriter for evangelists Falwell and Robertson before publicly declaring he was gay.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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