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Christian views get counselors in trouble
Maggie Hyde, Religion News Service
August 27, 2010
5 MIN READ TIME

Christian views get counselors in trouble

Christian views get counselors in trouble
Maggie Hyde, Religion News Service
August 27, 2010

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

discrimination?

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

counseling program.

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

school

counselor received

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.

Professional groups,

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.

RNS photo courtesy Gene Parunak/Alliance Defense Fund

Julea Ward was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University after she declined to counsel a patient in a homosexual relationship as part of her counseling degree program.

“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

further prominence.

“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

freedom.

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.”

University administrators

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

encounter.

“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

suits.”