Why Yes, Virginia, You Can Be Barred From Getting A Degree If You Won’t Do The Work
Julea Ward was a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University, and a devout Christian. The requirements of the program she entered complied with the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics. In part, a counselor is required to engage with clients who may possess values, whether cultural or religious, that differ from theirs. (PDF Link, Sections A.4.b and C.5.)
The short version of this story is that Ward didn’t want to counsel a gay client because it made her feel uncomfortable, and the school responded by expelling her:
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.
A federal judge upheld the expulsion, which but for the religious aspect would have been largely uncontroversial. Of course, she’s a.) a conservative Christian; b.) represented by the Alliance Defense Fund; and c.) the government is involved, which means that it’s time to start wailing about the end of religious freedom as we know it.
Hot Air (discussing a similar case in Georgia where a conservative Christian student was asked to be sensitive to the needs of gay clients):
It sounds to me like the ACA wants a “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule for religion. That runs square into the First Amendment, especially for a state-run school. The ACA’s idea of who comes first doesn’t get to trump the restriction on freedom of religious exercise. If clients get off-put by Keeton’s approach to counseling, they can look for another counselor. Now, the ACA can decide not to certify her; as a private organization, they have that prerogative. If they do that explicitly based on her religious belief, however, they may have a problem with that in court, especially as it will block Keeton’s ability to make a living.
Well, here’s the problem. Professional certification guidelines are, generally, constitutional. One of the requirements of the degree both the Georgia and Michigan students are pursuing is that they treat clients equally and respectfully, and don’t impose their personal beliefs on their clients. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the requirements of the job they voluntarily pursued. Sorry that they don’t want to do the job because of their religion, but it’s really not the school’s problem.
Erick “Everyone’s Fucking Goats But Me, Really” Erickson has the following to say:
In Michigan, a federal judge has upheld the expulsion of a graduate school student for believing homosexuality is morally wrong.
No. That’s not what happened. You have a First Amendment right to believe what you want without the government barring you from believing it or forcing you to believe something else. You don’t have a First Amendment right to grant yourself a blanket exemption from the religion-neutral requirements of the professional degree you voluntarily chose to pursue.
I understand why conservative Christians push these suits – it’s an effort to dominate and define the culture around their needs. But what’s telling is that these students chose to go into a profession whose requirements were readily accessible before they ever set foot in a classroom. You can read the ACA’s Code of Ethics, you can talk to counselors about their jobs. They shouldn’t be confronted or expelled because of their religious beliefs; they should be confronted or expelled because they went in intending to be bad counselors and are shocked – shocked!!! – when they’re treated accordingly.
UPDATE: Julea Ward would probably have a stronger case if she could, you know, keep her story straight. More below. Here’s the video that the ADF produced to present Ward’s
TV movie pitch side of the story.
The opening line:
“Julea Ward, a graduate student from Eastern Michigan University, followed her conscience and respectfully denied instructions to counsel an individual regarding a same-sex relationship in which he was involved.”
Ward, 25 seconds later:
“Now, I had never refused to counsel homosexuals, I had simply refused to affirm their lifestyle.”
From the ADF’s writeup on Ward:
A few days later, Julea came into the clinic early for an appointment with a potential client. Looking through his file, she learned he was seeking counsel about a homosexual relationship. She also saw that a previous counselor had affirmed his homosexual behavior – something Julea was unwilling to do.
Before meeting with the client, she put in a call to her adviser.
“What should I do?” she asked. “Should I meet with this client, and refer him if it becomes necessary … if he’s looking for affirmation for this homosexual relationship that he’s involved in? Or, should I not meet with him, so that rapport is not established, and simply have him assigned to another counselor?”
You see, I’ve been completely unfair to Ward. She didn’t refuse to counsel homosexual clients at all!
She just refused to counsel homosexual clients if there was any chance their homosexuality would come up in any way, shape or form, which is totally different, because nobody ever goes to counseling to talk about their relationships.