Michigan Legislators Hope To Compromise Counseling Standards To Protect Religious Objectors

Julea Ward claims she was discriminated against for refusing to affirm homosexuality.

As a graduate counseling student at Eastern Michigan University, Julea Ward refused to counsel a gay student about his relationships because affirming his “lifestyle” would be a breach of her religious beliefs. As a result, she was unable to complete her requirements and was booted from the university. She sued, claiming she was “discriminated against,” and a federal judge decided against her, ruling the university “had a right and duty to enforce compliance” with professional ethics rules.

Now, as Todd Heywood reports, two Michigan state senators are proposing legislation that would allow counseling students to decline to counsel some clients. Sen. Tupac Hunter (D) explains that it should be fair to discriminate against a client based on sexual orientation, but not on race, because the Bible prohibits homosexual activity but does not support racism. Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, explains how dangerous a precedent such a “conscience” clause could be:

BESEN: All respected mental health organizations say that homosexuality is not a disease that can be treated. Any counseling that rejects coming out as an option is by nature inappropriate, unhealthy and damaging to the client. Furthermore, the counseling should be about the client, not the self-serving needs of the therapist.

This bill underlines how ex-gay therapy is at the root of anti-gay bias. To not affirm a sexual orientation is to condemn it; to not encourage it is to discourage it. The moral objection to homosexuality requires that sexual orientation be something that is chosen, but all mental health research demonstrates that it is not, and professional ethics reflect this reality. By suggesting counseling students should be free to disregard gay clients, these senators are endorsing anti-gay mythology and discrimination in the name of Christianity.