by Lucy Hough
On Monday, July 26, a federal court ruled in favor of Eastern Michigan University after former graduate counseling student Julea Ward sued the school for dismissing her from the program because she refused to counsel a gay student and affirm his relationship. Ward’s refusal, she told her supervisors, was due to her religious beliefs.
The school justified dismissing her by saying that they adhered to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association which states that ” a counselor’s primary responsibility … is to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients” and that “counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals. Counselors respect the diversity of clients.”
The former student said that the dismissal violated her First Amendment rights by expecting her to change her beliefs. She said that she would not refuse to counsel a gay client, but she would not affirm the students’ “lifestyle” and so asked to have that client referred to another counselor. This provoked a series of review hearings requesting that Ward take a remediation course which would ultimately advise her on how to affirm homosexual relationships, but she refused. After a formal hearing, Ward was dismissed from the program.
Ward’s counsel, the Alliance Defense Fund, has said that it will appeal the decision to a higher court. They are fighting not only that the university violated the First Amendment, but also that Ward was not allowed due process because of how the formal review was conducted, challenging her religious beliefs toward more than just homosexuality in terms of counseling.
According to EMU, the decision to dismiss her was based on the fact that she refused remediation which would not ask her to change her beliefs, but rather learn to set aside her personal values when helping a student who was looking for help.
Judge George Steeh determined in his 48-page decision that the university had not violated Ward’s First or 14th Amendment rights by dismissing her because they were adhering to the ACA Code of Ethics as a part of their curriculum.
Steeh stated in his decision, “EMU could not confer a counseling degree on a student who said she would categorically refer all clients who sought counseling on topics with which she had contrary moral convictions. Having demonstrated that its policy is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns, the university did not violate (the) plaintiff’s First Amendment free speech rights.”
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