A graduate student in Georgia is suing Augusta State University for threatening “to dismiss her from its counseling program when she refused to participate in a remediation plan to increase her tolerance” towards gays and lesbians. The student, Jennifer Keeton — who says that her views against homosexuality are motivated by her Christian beliefs — is charging that ASU violated her “constitutional rights of speech, belief, and religious exercise” by forcing her to participate in the course.
“While I want to stay in the school counseling program, I know that I can’t honestly complete the remediation plan knowing that I would have to alter my beliefs,” Keeton said. “I’m not willing to and I know I can’t change my Biblical views.” According to the lawsuit, Keeton had said both in class and in writing assignments that “she believes sexual behavior is the result of accountable personal choice” and “faculty have also received unsolicited reports from another student that [Miss Keeton] has relayed her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, which is backing Keeton’s lawsuit, is claiming that the counseling department is “ruthlessly attempting to cleanse Christian belief from its students,” but during a segment this afternoon on CNN, Gregg Nevins of Lambda Legal explained that ASU had to ensure that Keeton met the state’s accreditation standards and was simply requiring her to set aside her personal religious beliefs in the interest of the client:
DAVID FRENCH (ALLIANCE DEFENSE FUND): You have a counseling department that is ruthlessly attempting to cleanse Christian belief from its students….This counseling department has imposed its values, violating its own code of ethics on these students, telling them they have to change their religious beliefs, that their religious beliefs are wrong.
GREG NEVINS (LAMBDA LEGAL): That’s ridiculous. Is there any evidence that Augusta State is it taking a different position towards an anti-gay person who is not basing it on their religious beliefs? Because that would be religious discrimination if she were being singled out, but somebody else said ‘I don’t want to deal with gay people because I think they’re awful and it has nothing to do with my religion’ that would be religious discrimination. […] Even Augusta State is a public institution, they are trying to train people for professional accreditation. They have a responsibility and it’s been upheld by the courts including a case that you lost on Monday in Michigan that’s been held that they have a responsibility to train people properly to be good counselors.
Indeed, ADL lost a very similar case against Eastern Michigan University “where a graduate student said she was kicked out of a master’s program after refusing to counsel a homosexual client.” In that case, U.S. District Judge George Steeh ruled that, “Plaintiff was not required to change her views or religious beliefs; she was required to set them aside in the counselor-client relationship — a neutral, generally applicable expectation of all counselors-to-be under the ACA (American Counseling Association) standard.”
The university “had a right and duty to enforce compliance” with professional ethics rules barring counselors from being intolerant or engaging in discrimination, and no reasonable person could conclude that a counseling program’s requirement that students comply with such rules “conveys a message endorsing or disapproving of religion,” the judge wrote.