Jennifer Keeton, 24, doesn't believe that homosexuality is biological, but instead is a lifestyle choice. As a Christian, she also believes it is a morally wrong choice. In response to her views, Augusta State University, where she is pursuing a master's degree in counseling, has ordered Keeton to enter a remedial program or face expulsion. The school sent her a notice questioning her ability to be a "multiculturally competent counselor."
Keeton, backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, filed suit against the school last week in the U.S. District Court in Augusta, claiming the school has violated her First Amendment rights. The ADF argued in the court filing that her beliefs would still allow her to counsel gays and lesbians.
The school's student handbook said a remedial program may be necessary "when a student's progress is not satisfactory on interpersonal or professional criteria unrelated to academic performance."
Under the university's proposed remedial program, Keeton would be required to attend several gay sensitivity training courses and participate in activities like Augusta's gay pride parade for "exposure and interactions with gay populations." While the school opposes the view that homosexuality is a choice, it has encouraged her to read material that defines gender as a choice. She would be required to submit a monthly two-page reflection on how the program has influenced her beliefs, so the school can "decide the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program."
The school hasn't responded directly to Keeton's suit, but spokeswoman Kathy Schofe told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the university does not discriminate. Faculty who wrote the remediation plan said her views could go against counselors' "code of ethics." The suit alleges that faculty told Keeton she must "alter her beliefs."
"Abandoning one's own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree," said David French, a senior ADF attorney, in a statement. The lawsuit said that Keeton shared her views in the classroom and in assignments that sexual behavior "is the result of accountable personal choice."
"Miss Keeton has never stated in class, or to fellow students outside of class, that her Christian ethical views entail that she does not affirm the inherent dignity of or care for other persons because of their views or behavior related to gender or sexual conduct," the suit reads. "Indeed, Miss Keeton's biblical convictions are entirely to the contrary, for these establish the dignity of and respect owing to all persons due to their ontological status as created in the image of God."
The suit relates a conversation Keeton had with one of the professors who designed the remedial program. Keeton asked the professor, Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley, why her beliefs weren't as acceptable as those of Muslim or Buddhist students. "Christians see this population as sinners," Anderson-Wiley allegedly replied. Keeton responded, according to the suit, that "all people are sinners." Another professor, Paulette Schenck, allegedly told Keeton that there were limits to what she should be sharing about her faith outside the classroom.
The ADF recently filed a similar suit on behalf of a student whom Eastern Michigan University dismissed from its master's in counseling program-she claims she was dismissed because of her beliefs about homosexuality.