Mich. Counseling Student Expelled Over Refusal to Treat Gay Client, Wins Case

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday December 12, 2012

A counseling student from Eastern Michigan University, who was expelled from the school's counseling program over her refusal to treat a gay client, has resolved her legal case against the college, the Detroit Free Press reports.

It was announced on Tuesday that officials from EMU have settled Julea Ward's 2009 lawsuit and that the college will awarded a $75,000 settlement.

"EMU has made the decision that is in the best interest of its students and the taxpayers of the state of Michigan to resolve the litigation rather than continue to spend money on a costly trial," Walter Kraft, EMU's vice president for communications, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was initially filed three years ago by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal group, on behalf of Ward, who was training to be a grade school counselor through the college's Graduate School Counseling Program. Officials from EMU expelled the student because of her views on the LGBT community as she declined a gay client treatment. Officials argued that she was not following the American Counseling Association's code of ethics but Ward cited her religious beliefs as the reason why she couldn't help the gay client.

In January, Ward was allowed to argue "religious discrimination" in her suit against the school.

"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."

In a YouTube video for the Alliance Defense Fund, Ward said that she "never refused to counsel homosexuals" but "had simply refused to affirm their lifestyle."

The legal group also asked the court to order EMU to change its counseling guidelines so it would permit counseling students to refer clients to other professionals on controversial issues, including same-sex relationships, abortion, and premarital sex.

"The resolution of the lawsuit leaves the university's policies, programs, and curricular requirements intact," Kraft said. "The faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University."