Everyone's talking about this student, Jennifer Keeton, who doesn't like gays all that much, says that we've made a sinful lifestyle choice, but still wants to be a counselor and promises that "those beliefs would not affect [her] ability to counsel gays and lesbians."
Jennifer Keeton, a graduate student in the school of counseling, says in her court filing that the school threatened to expel her if she didn't complete a remediation plan that includes diversity sensitivity workshops. Keeton had said in and out class that, according to her Christian beliefs, homosexuality is immoral and a lifestyle choice, according to her suit.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Augusta. The university has not been served with the lawsuit and officials declined to comment on the case, spokeswoman Kathy Schofe said Friday. She did say that the university does not discriminate and has policies in place to protect students if they believe they have been discriminated against.
The Alliance Defense Fund has taken up her case, arguing she should have the academic freedom to dislike gay people. Since she doesn't just have a moral opinion on gays, but is making up her own facts that are rejected by mental health professionals, it seems that the lone student fighting for the right to discuss a topic freely is a bad analogy. Closer analogies would be an Amish student who wants a degree in electrical engineering but doesn't want to do the technology parts because they're against her religious beliefs.
The ADF was also working on a similar suit in Michigan on behalf of a grad student who wanted to become a high school counselor, which recently got rejected by a judge:
Ward, the plaintiff in the case, was admitted to the master's program in 2006, with the goal of becoming a high school counselor. Like many counseling graduate programs, the one at Eastern Michigan is a mix of coursework and practical experience, in which students engage in actual counseling.
Ward describes herself as an "orthodox Christian," the judge's ruling said, and was upfront in her courses -- both in discussions and papers -- about her view that homosexuality is "morally wrong." She also wrote in papers that it is "standard practice" for counselors to refer clients whose values they disagree with to other counselors (even though that's not standard practice or consistent with American Counseling Association ethics rules, which specifically require counselors to work in non-judgmental ways with clients whose values differ from their own.) While Ward's suit alleged that she faced "disagreeable" reactions to her views from professors, she also earned excellent grades.
The dispute that led to the litigation started in 2009, when Ward was enrolled in the practicum in which she was to engage in actual counseling. Faced with an appointment with a client whose file indicated past discussion of a gay relationship, Ward asked to refer the candidate to another counselor rather than engage in any counseling that could "affirm the client's homosexual behavior." Since this was two hours before the appointment, the supervising counselor canceled the appointment, but set off disciplinary hearings that eventually led to Ward being kicked out of the program.
Eastern Michigan's counseling program -- like many others -- requires its students to practice in ways that are consistent with the counseling association's ethics code, including requirements that bar behavior that reflects an "inability to tolerate different points of view," "imposing values" on clients or discrimination based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. The counseling association does permit referrals, but they are supposed to be for the good of the client, not for the comfort of the counselor. Typically, a referral that would be seen as legitimate might involve a counselor referring someone to a colleague with expertise on a particular problem.[...]
Judge Steeh rejected those arguments, finding that the requirements were curricular in nature and thus that the university deserved the right to set its own standards.
He noted a number of differences between the kinds of speech codes that courts have barred and the rules at Eastern Michigan. For instance, he noted that the rules applied only to students in a specific professional program, and that the issues of discrimination were not raised with regard to Ward's views as expressed in class, and that she was free to express those views anywhere. He said that the counseling association's code of ethics, as applied at Eastern Michigan, was "not a prohibition on a counselor making statements about their values and beliefs in a setting other than with a client," and was in fact "quite narrowly drawn" with the purpose of protecting clients served by counselors.
Then Steeh turned to whether the ethics code was widely known as a requirement at the university (he said the evidence showed it was), and to curricular autonomy.
"Courts have traditionally given public colleges and graduate schools wide latitude to create curricula that fit schools' understandings of their educational missions," he noted. Judge Steeh added: "Counseling, by its very nature, relies on a uniquely personal and intimate relationship between the counselor and client to assist in delivering the objectives sought by the client. Educating counselors to provide such services is clearly within the expertise of the universities that provide such programs.... [Ward] knew the university's curricular goal of teaching students to counsel without imposing their personal values on their clients by setting up boundaries so as not to be judgmental."
In backing Eastern Michigan, Judge Steeh said he wasn't endorsing the counseling association's ethics code, but respecting its right to set a code and the right of universities to follow it.
Given the mental health industry's history of abuse of LGBT people, which has really only been turned around in the last few decades, having professional standards like these make sense. Since Ward wanted to be a high school counselor, she would, most likely, eventually have to deal with an LGBT student who's coming out. Schools already don't have enough counselors, and she can't just refer every queer student to another counselor, nor would it be professional for her to refer them to ex-gay or ex-trans therapy.
Her beliefs would get in the way of her doing her job, so this isn't about academic freedom. Not every university program can have the same sort of freedom of thought that liberal arts colleges do, where since none of the degrees are practical, you're encouraged to think for yourself. Some academic programs are meant for specific jobs, and if you refuse to do a major part of that job, then a school's not going to want to put its name on your degree.