The creator of a popular calendar showcasing former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries posing shirtless is filing suit against Brigham Young University over the Mormon-owned school’s revocation of his degree.
Chad Hardy, a Las Vegas resident who released the popular Men on a Mission calendar in late 2007 to nationwide acclaim, was excommunicated in July for “conduct unbecoming a member of the Church”—in part because he refused to pull plans for a 2009 calendar.
A lighthearted attempt to show members of the conservative LDS church as individuals and to increase relgious tolerance for Mormons, the calendar’s popular first installment sold over 10,000 copies. A portion of its proceeds also went to charities chosen by individual models.
As Hardy explains it, the trouble with BYU began in August, after he finished the last four credits of his communications degree, which he had put on hold in 2002 due to financial reasons. Although Hardy had finished his class work before his excommunication, he was still concerned that the school would “try to pull something like this over me, because they are a private institution, and they are notorious for playing unfair.” After walking at his graduation ceremony, Hardy thought the school wouldn’t “dare take my degree away,” especially given the media attention the calendar had received.
He was mistaken. On Sept. 30, Norman B. Finlinson, Executive Director of BYU’s Student Academic & Advisement Services, wrote to Hardy, stating that Hardy had been deleted from the graduation list and that he would not receive his degree.
The reason? “The University became aware that you were not in good honor code standing to graduate because you had been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Finlinson added that Hardy could contact his office about his “possible eligibility for the awarding of a degree” if he again became a member in good standing.
“It seems to me with the PR disasters the church has experienced recently, that perhaps they just don’t care anymore what people think,” said Hardy, referring to the criticism the Mormon church has faced after its public support for California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. “[Church president] Thomas S. Monson has set a new precedence. They are going to flex their muscles with their agenda, and if you don’t like it, move out of the way.”
But Hardy is not moving out of the way. In the months after receiving Finlinson’s letter he has retained attorneys Stephen C. Clark and George M. Frandsen and began seeking funds for his legal defense. Although privately-owned universities such as BYU do not fall under state nondiscrimination laws, Hardy said that the school can’t deny a degree based on religion.
“If a student is accepted and nothing changes between acceptance and graduation, the university is obligated, as I understand it, to award the degree,” said Hardy. “In my case, the university policy states that a student must be in good honor code standing at the time of graduation. So, the question is ‘when did I graduate,’ was it when I was approved in 2002? Was it when I finished my last coursework? Was it when I attended commencement and wore my cap and gown? Or is it, as the university seems to think, whenever they get around to it.”
A strong legal precedent also exists, he added, that says all schools must treat their students fairly—for example, by making sure that a student’s punishment does not exceed the severity of an honor code violation.
“In my case, revoking my degree after I earned it, without telling me and allowing me a hearing, violates fundamental rules of fairness,” he explained.
Because BYU does accept “federally insured student loans and federally funded grants,” Hardy said his attorneys are also looking into whether or not the school violated federal laws regarding the confidentiality of a student’s records and “the manner of notice when disciplinary action is taken.” Further, some details in Hardy’s excommunication have also caused his lawyers to consider a cause of action for defamation of character.
The path to Hardy’s excommunication began in March, when he was contacted by his stake president, Frank Davie, who called Hardy’s calendar “inappropriate.”
“It simply does not represent the Church or Church missionaries in the right way,” Davie wrote in an email to Hardy dated May 11, and which Hardy has posted to his Web site chadhardy.com. When Hardy refused to pull production of a 2009 calendar, he said Davie sent him a letter calling him to a church disciplinary hearing.
“Every single question was about the calendar—what it looked like, was the church logo used, is there a disclaimer, etc.,” said Hardy. “… The whole time I was trying to figure out what I had done so wrong for the church to be holding the disciplinary council on my behalf. It’s not like I was speaking out against the core beliefs of Mormonism—if anything, I was celebrating Mormonism in my own unique way.”
The vagueness of his excommunication, said Hardy, is where the question of defamation of character lies.
“Since it is well known that the church doesn’t excommunicate for failure to wear garments or pay tithing,” both of which came up briefly during the hearing, “their statement that I was excommunicated for other serious transgressions implies I did something they consider to be an excommunicable offense, such as adultery, murder or committing a felony,” Hardy explained. “Although I didn’t do any of these, this is what people assume when they hear the statements that have been made.”
In suing BYU and the Mormon church, Hardy also said he hopes to teach both institutions to treat students fairly, and to adhere by the “constitutional guarantees of due process” that the church believes are divinely inspired. And while Hardy is heterosexual, he said he sees similarities between his case and the church’s involvement in Proposition 8.
“The church’s agenda took away something sacred and personal that belonged to 18,000 families in California. Their agenda took away something personal that belonged to me too—my dignity and my degree,” he said.
“The LDS Church proudly teaches that the Constitution of the United States of America was divinely inspired by God. Yet the Church has taken every legal measure possible to ensure that the Constitution does not apply to its members and the students and faculty at BYU. The church in taking away their rights of its members under the protection of the separation of church and state has also used that same constitutional protection to take away the rights of families in California.”
True to the charitable spirit behind the Men on a Mission calendar, Hardy said he will donate his legal fund if he wins to a nonprofit organization to help “students and individuals in similar situations.”
“My situation is not unique within the walls of the church and BYU,” he said. “I am just the guy who has been fortunate enough to have the public and media interest in my story which has allowed me to shine a spotlight on the injustices that occur in the name of religion.”
Hardy is in need of $10,000 for his legal fund. At press time he has raised $1,871.85. To donate, or to learn more about Hardy, his case and the calendar that started it all visit chadhardy.com. Donors who contribute $100 or more will receive a signed copy of the 2008 and 2009 Men on a Mission calendars. Money can be sent through the site using Paypal or mailed to Chad Hardy Legal Fund, PO Box 97776, Las Vegas, NV 89193.