PROVO — An attorney entered guilty pleas Wednesday for most of the 29 protesters arrested in April during gay-rights demonstrations at Brigham Young University.

Fourth District Judge Claudia Laycock ordered 21 of the protesters to pay $200 fines after attorney Scott E. Williams presented her with written guilty pleas from 20 of them. One member of the Soulforce Equality Ride, sponsor of the protests, pleaded no contest.

The other eight who were arrested are expected to provide written guilty pleas at a hearing on July 5. The fines, due July 19, were part of a plea deal that reduced the charges to an infraction. The original charge was a Class C misdemeanor for failure to cease violation of university policy.

Each of the written pleas included the statement, "I took part in a protest on the BYU campus knowing it violated university policy, and I failed to leave when asked to do so."

BYU spokesman Michael Smart confirmed Wednesday that an Honor Code review of the activities of five students who participated in Soulforce activities on April 10 and 11 is complete and resulted in punishments for all five.

BYU placed four students on probation, Smart said. The status of the fifth student is "suspension withheld," a stronger type of probation.

Matthew Kulisch, 24, said Wednesday he is the one who drew the strongest punishment and that he has decided to leave BYU and enroll at the University of Utah in the fall.

"They kicked me out of the university but upon further consideration decided I could stay under certain terms and conditions," said Kulisch, who is gay and who became the symbol of the Soulforce tour stop in Provo. "The earliest I could return to 'good Honor Code standing' is the end of winter semester 2007."

The Soulforce Equality Ride stopped at 19 colleges, universities and military academies during a five-week tour. Arrests were made in five other cities. At BYU, security took the arrested protesters to vans, cited them and drove them to their hotel.

BYU warned Soulforce months before it arrived in Provo that its protests were against university policy. School officials warned that group members would be allowed to speak with students on campus but only in one-on-one conversations.

Kulisch revealed to reporters that he is gay on April 10, the same day BYU security arrested three Soulforce riders and two parents of one of the riders for attempting to make speeches on campus.

The following day, Kulisch led a march from the Provo Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints down around the outskirts of campus to the entrance at Canyon Road and Bulldog Boulevard.

At the end of the walk, 24 people staged a die-in, with Kulisch the first to walk onto campus and fall to the ground as if dead. The march and die-in were to symbolize the suicides of LDS gays hurt by a lack of understanding within the church's culture.

Before the march began, BYU officials warned Soulforce members and students that the die-in was against university policy and would result in arrest.

Kulisch and three other students who are not gay — Timothy Burt, 18, Lauren Jackson, 19, and Alexander Liberato, 22 — participated in the die-in. The fifth student, Emil Pohlig, 24, joined the march only.

"I didn't get arrested," said Pohlig, who is gay, "but they considered my participation with Soulforce as advocacy of a gay lifestyle so they put me on Honor Code probation till the end of this year."

Kulisch and Burt were among those whose guilty pleas were entered on Wednesday. The others included former BYU students Michael Cramer and Daniel Holsinger.

Kulisch said terms of his withheld suspension included avoidance of all contact with gays.

"That's rather difficult to do because one cannot determine who is a homosexual by looking at them," Kulisch said.

He also would have been required to read talks by Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Boyd K. Packer of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve.

Kulisch and Pohlig said the rulings did little to clear up the vagueness of BYU's policy on gays. BYU does allow gays to enroll but the Honor Code prohibits any gay behavior or advocacy of a gay lifestyle.

The terms provided to Kulisch stated that romantic touching and hugging would not be allowed.

"This was slightly more specific about the actual physicality of certain situations," Kulisch said, "but it's still fairly vague. It still uses the phrase 'including, but not limited to.' That makes me wonder what else is included. Obviously, the part about 'anything which advocates behavior' is completely vague. Vagueness bothers me."

It's what drove Pohlig to decide, long before Kulisch, to leave BYU and enroll at the U.

"Honestly, I thought they would suspend me," Pohlig said. "I was surprised they only put me on probation, but it was really stressful last semester trying to deal with everything, and it's been too stressful all along."

BYU's Honor Code bans sexual activity outside marriage and advocacy of a gay lifestyle.

"The honor code is directed toward behavior, not orientation," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins has said.

Kulisch said he was pleased with the plea arrangement and that Soulforce has kept its promise to pay the fines for everyone who was arrested.

"There have been accusations that Soulforce has left people high and dry, and that's not true at all," Kulisch said.


E-mail: [email protected]