Mich. Counseling Student Refuses to Treat Gays, Gets Expelled, Sues University
A counseling student from Eastern Michigan University (EMU), who was expelled for refusing to treat gays and lesbians, was recently granted permission by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that she can argue "religious discrimination" in her suit against the school, the Detroit Free Press reported. Julea Ward will now take her case before a federal court jury in Detroit.
"Ward's free speech claim deserves to go to a jury," Judge Jeffrey Sutton said in an opinion joined by Julia Gibbons and John Adams.
"Although the university submits it dismissed Ward from the program because her request for a referral violated the ACA (American Counseling Association) code of ethics, a reasonable jury could find otherwise -- that the code of ethics contains no such bar and that the university deployed it as a pretext for punishing Ward's religious views and speech."
Wade told professors that she could not see gays and lesbians because her "Christian faith prohibited her from affirming homosexual behavior," the Associated Press reported. Ward said that she would counsel them on other issues, however.
"I had never refused to counsel homosexuals, I had simply refused to affirm their lifestyle," Ward says in a YouTube video.
Lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christina legal organization, are defending Ward and are pleased with her major victory.
"Public universities shouldn't force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree," said Jeremy Tedesco, the organization's lawyer who argued the case. "The court rightly understood this and ruled appropriately. Rather than allow Julea to refer a potential client to another qualified counselor -- a common, professional practice to best serve clients -- EMU attacked and questioned Julea's religious beliefs and ultimately expelled her from the program because of them."
The university released a statement and explained the Sixth Circuit Court's ruling.
"Rather, the Sixth Circuit Court ruled that there needs to be additional legal proceedings before a decision can be reached," EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft said. "The Court also found that the Regents and the President of Eastern Michigan University were properly dismissed from the lawsuit and refused to reinstate them despite Ward's request."
"This case has never been about religion or religious discrimination," he added. "It is not about homosexuality or sexual orientation. This case is about what is in the best interest of a person who is in need of counseling, and following the curricular requirements of our highly respected and nationally accredited counseling program, which adheres to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association."
The AP reported about a similar incident that occurred in Georgia late last year. Jennifer Keeton was placed on academic probation at Augusta State University for saying she could not work with gay patients because of her religious views. Keeton's attorney said that her First Amendment rights were violated and that school officials threatened to expel her if she did not attend gay rights events.
"She was told, 'You don't have to believe it. You just have to say you do,'" Keeton's attorney Jeff Shafer said.
Keeton told classmates that she wanted to practice conversion therapy (where a therapist tries to "cure" a homosexual patient and "turn them straight") when she graduated, Cristina Correia with the state Attorney General's office said.
"The university has a responsibility when putting students in a practicum and graduating them," Correia said. "When you have that kind of evidence, the faculty could not, under their ethical standards, put that student in a clinical setting without further remediation."
Keeton filed a federal lawsuit and claimed the college wanted to expel her because she "holds Christian ethical convictions on human sexuality and gender identity" but a judge dismissed her case.
The Alliance Defense Fund also defended Keeton's views and said that her beliefs are protected by the First Amendment. But the gay rights group, American Civil Liberties Union and Lambada Legal said that counselors should not discriminate against sexual orientation and should not force their personal views on their clients.
Watch Julea Ward's YouTube video for the Alliance Defense Fund below: