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11th Circuit: Counseling Student Was Rightfully Expelled For Intending To Condemn Gay Clients

By Zack Ford  

"11th Circuit: Counseling Student Was Rightfully Expelled For Intending To Condemn Gay Clients"

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In July 2010, Jennifer Keeton sued Augusta State University for expelling her from its graduate level Counselor Education Program when she refused to abide by the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. Keeton argued that she should not have to affirm gay clients or silence her personal religious opposition as a counselor. Now, a unanimous three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit  Court of Appeals has rejected her appeal for a preliminary injunction against the expulsion, concluding that her free speech and free exercise were not hindered by the school’s conditions.

Keeton had said she believes members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning population suffer from “identity confusion,” and had expressed interest in attempting to convert students from being homosexual to heterosexual. She also said it would be impossible to separate her views about homosexuality from her clients’ views, and even admitted that if she were a high school counselor, she would tell a sophomore struggling with his sexual orientation that it is not okay to be gay. The court ruled that the cultural sensitivity remediation the school prescribed her so she could learn to work with GLBTQ clients did not constitute viewpoint discrimination, but rather reflected the expectations of the profession:

Every profession has its own ethical codes and dictates. When someone voluntarily chooses to enter a profession, he or she must comply with its rules and ethical requirements.  Lawyers must present legal arguments on behalf of their clients, notwithstanding their personal views.  Judges must apply the law, even when they disagree with it.  So too counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.

The Sixth Circuit is hearing a similar case against Eastern Michigan University by a student named Julea Ward. In July 2010, Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed Ward’s suit, saying her dismissal “was entirely due” to her “refusal to change her behavior.” Motivated by Ward’s ongoing case, some Michigan legislators recently proposed legislation that would allow counseling students to decline serving certain clients without jeopardizing their academic success.

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