LANSING – On Oct. 5, a group of 34 conservative State House Republicans introduced a bill that would penalize colleges and universities if counseling students are required to provide services to all students. The bill would permit students to refuse to counsel a client if doing so conflicts with a student’s religious belief or moral conviction.
The proposed act, known as the Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act, is named after the Eastern Michigan University former graduate counseling student who 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.
Ward lost her suit against EMU in federal court last year.
Walter Kraft, EMU’s VP for Communications, explained that EMU’s dismissal of Ward was not about LGBT issues or religion, but was about what is in the best interest of a client who is in need of counseling, and following the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association. Those Ethical Standards require that counselors are not to allow their personal values to intrude into their professional work.
“As one of the premiere teacher-training institutions in the United States, Eastern Michigan University takes seriously our Constitutional mission to ensure that every student who graduates from our academic programs meets applicable curricular and regulatory requirements. We will continue to pursue and defend this mission at every opportunity,” said Kraft.
“It’s very dangerous to have the legislature micromanage public universities’ curriculums that not only interfere with the university’s autonomy, but could very well jeopardize their accreditation,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney at the Michigan ACLU’s LGBT project. “It raises constitutional concerns, and once again brings up the question of why? Why when we need our leaders to focus on the problems inherent in Michigan’s economy are they wasting time and tax payers’ money on legislation like this?”
Kraft strongly defended EMU’s position in the ward case. “The July 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the entire case against EMU – all six claims against 17 defendants,” said Kraft. “The Court’s ruling reflected strong views on the case, as conveyed in this particular section: ‘Plaintiff has distorted the facts in this case to support her position that defendants dismissed her due to her religious beliefs.'”
HOUSE BILL No. 5040 language
October 5, 2011, Introduced by Reps. Haveman, Rogers, Kowall, Daley, Pscholka, Heise, Shirkey, Hooker, Kurtz, Bumstead, Jenkins, Shaughnessy, Poleski, O’Brien, Knollenberg, MacMaster, Gilbert, Genetski, Franz, McMillin, Walsh, MacGregor, Huuki, Rendon, Lyons, Price, Johnson, Damrow, Foster, Olumba, Roy Schmidt, Yonker, Opsommer and Olson and referred to the Committee on Education.
A bill to protect the right of a student to assert conscientious objection to providing certain counseling or other services; to prohibit certain actions by institutions of higher education; and to provide remedies.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
Sec. 1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Julea Ward freedom of conscience act”.
Sec. 3. A public or private degree or certificate granting college, university, junior college, or community college of this state shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services
Sec. 5. (1) A person who alleges a violation of this act may bring a civil action for appropriate injunctive relief, or actual damages, or both within 90 days after the occurrence of the alleged violation of this act.
(2) An action commenced under subsection (1) may be brought in the circuit court for the county where the alleged violation occurred, the county where the complainant resides, or the county where the educational institution is located.
(3) As used in this section, “damages” means compensation for injury or loss caused by each violation of this act, including reasonable attorney fees.