Virtual Voices

Conscience, counseling, and homosexuality

Religion

In January 2009, Julea Ward enrolled as a graduate student in the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University. When she was assigned to counsel someone seeking help with a homosexual relationship, she realized it would be a violation of her Christian beliefs to do so.

Ward turned to her supervisor who advised her to reassign the client. University officials then informed Ward that she would have to undergo a "remediation" program, the purpose of which was to help her "see the error of her ways."

According to the Alliance Defense Fund (now representing her), Ward's religious beliefs were denigrated at a formal review meeting. One faculty member reportedly asked Ward if she believed her "brand" of Christianity was superior to that of other Christians.

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Ward was then dismissed from the program, and her appeal to the dean of EMU's College of Education was denied.

Represented by attorneys from the ADF, Ward filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In July 2010 that court ruled in favor of EMU. That ruling was based, according to Fox News, on EMU's contention that Ward "violated school policy and the American Counseling Association's code of ethics, which forbids counselors from discrimination in clinical practice."

ADF attorneys representing Ward appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where oral arguments were heard earlier this week. They argued that it was Ward who suffered discrimination. "Public universities shouldn't force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree," said Jeremy Tedesco, one of Ward's ADF attorneys. "Rather than allow Julea to refer a potential client to another qualified counselor-a common, professional practice to best serve clients-EMU attacked and questioned Julea's religious beliefs and ultimately expelled her from the program because of them."

Tedesco believes that Ward's First Amendment rights were violated when the university required her to enter a remediation program intended to change her beliefs about homosexuality.

Let's be clear here. Because of her Christian views, Ward did not feel that she could, in good conscience, support a patient requesting help with a homosexual relationship. Would a counselor forced into trying to help a patient truly serve him well? Isn't it reasonable to assume that Ward's reservations would have impacted her ability to offer her full support?

Ward knew she wasn't the right person for that job. Surely counselors should have the right to refer patients to others better equipped to help them. Call it a conscience exemption, or just plain common sense. But don't call it discrimination.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein

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