It’s a question being raised
by counselors and educators across the country: When are religious views on
homosexuality an issue of religious and academic freedom, and when are they
On Aug. 20, a federal judge
ruled against Jennifer Keeton, a student at Augusta State University who was
ordered to either undergo “diversity sensitivity” training after she expressed
conservative Christian views on the issue of homosexuality, or leave the school’s
Her attorneys announced Aug.
23 they were appealing the case.
In March, a federal judge
supported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its dismissal of a
Georgia counselor who ended a session with a lesbian client and referred her to
another counselor because of her religious views. And in Maine last year, a
complaints for appearing in a TV ad that opposed the state’s gay marriage law.
As homosexuality becomes
more acceptable in American society, some Christian counselors say they are
being persecuted for their views as the pendulum, in their eyes, swings too far
toward political correctness.
meanwhile, say counselors are duty-bound to be able to handle any number of
cases, including those that present situations that might conflict with the
counselor’s personal religious beliefs.
Julea Ward, a conservative
Christian student at Eastern Michigan University, was a few credits away from
finishing her master’s degree in counseling in 2009 when she was assigned a
student who had previously been counseled about a homosexual relationship.
“She went to her supervisor
and said, ‘I may not be the best person for this particular client,” said
Jeremy Tedesco, Ward’s attorney, who has advised his client not to speak
publicly about the case.
Ward was later brought up on
disciplinary charges, and eventually dismissed from Eastern Michigan for
violating the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics and
demonstrating an unwillingness to change her behavior.
On July 26, a federal judge
upheld the school’s dismissal of Ward. Her case will be appealed, said Tedesco,
an attorney with the conservative legal firm Alliance Defense Fund, which has
taken up at least four similar cases in the last year alone.
Tedesco thinks the appeal
could take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, bringing the issue to
“The judge here definitely
got it wrong, in our opinion,” he said. “In my view we’re going to see a trend
of more universities doing this.”
Ward’s and other cases have
left some professionals wondering whether Christian views opposing
homosexuality are compatible with the counseling profession, and whether such
views are protected under the auspices of religious freedom.
The question of how much
students and professors should be allowed to express religious views that frown
on homosexual behavior remains unresolved, but cases like Ward’s and others
seem to indicate little tolerance for personal religious views within academia.
Students in psychology and
counseling programs are subject to the American Counseling Association Code of
Ethics instead of university rules that may allow greater room for academic
Ward’s legal team says the
professional codes are unconstitutional and should not be a basis for
discipline, especially at public universities.
“It’s a big difference
between teaching a code of ethics and enforcing them,” said Tedesco. “Those
kind of policies can’t withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
disagree, saying they have to abide by professional standards if they want
their students’ degrees to be taken seriously in the workforce.
“We have to go through
accreditation standards,” said Walter Kraft, Eastern Michigan’s vice president
for communications. “We have to honor whatever guidelines might exist.”
Psychology and counseling
professionals it is sometimes appropriate for them to deny their services, as
Ward did — when there is a conflict of interest, a close relationship, or
unchangeable bias. In practice, they say counselors and psychologists need to
be as open-minded as possible, given the myriad of personalities they
“A professional needs to be
able to work with a wide range of populations,” said Clinton Anderson, director
of the office on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns at the
American Psychological Association. “That’s a necessary thing when you’re
talking about competence.”
Anderson said Ward’s actions
were inappropriate given her chosen specialty in school counseling. He said
school counselors, like those working in rural or poor communities, often don’t
have another provider to whom they can refer a student.
Anderson and others say
Christian counselors shouldn’t be surprised by the rules — a sexual orientation
anti-discrimination clause has been in the American Psychological Association’s
ethics code for more than 20 years.
“What may be new about it,”
he said, “is that there are very active law firms who are prepared to file