A Georgia court has dismissed a lawsuit by a former counseling student who was ordered by Augusta State University (ASU) to complete remedial training after expressing her anti-gay views.
As the Student Press Law Center is reporting, Jennifer Keeton sued ASU in 2010 after faculty members told her she couldn’t complete the degree program if she did not complete a remediation plan, which included attending diversity workshops, reading articles about counseling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and submitting monthly writing assignments.
Keeton, a graduate student who was then enrolled in ASU's Counselor Education Program, was reportedly outspoken about her views on the LGBT community, saying she would not "condone the propriety of homosexual relations or a homosexual identity in a counseling situation," according to the judge’s opinion.
Judge J. Randal Hall found that the university's rules did not violate the rights of religious students like Keeton. Instead, he framed the issue as an academic one, according to Inside Higher Ed.
"Keeton’s conflation of personal and professional values, or at least her difficulty in discerning the difference, appears to have been rooted in her opinion that the immorality of homosexual relations is a matter of objective and absolute moral truth.
The policies which govern the ethical conduct of counselors, however, with their focus on client welfare and self-determination, make clear that the counselor’s professional environs are not intended to be a crucible for counselors to test metaphysical or moral propositions. Plato’s Academy or a seminary the Counselor Program is not; that Keeton’s opinions were couched in absolute or ontological terms does not give her constitutional license to make it otherwise."
He then concluded:
"One conspicuous and abiding theme of the American story is that individuals like Jennifer Keeton are free to choose their own spiritual path, and need brook no government trespass thereon. The Constitution guarantees that the heart may pulse to meters of its own design, deaf to public cadence. But when affairs of the conscience ripen into action – either speech or conduct –- government is granted leave to regulate in behalf of certain public interests, including education and professional fitness."
Keeton has previously agreed to the remediation plan, but she later withdrew her consent via email. " "I want to stay in the school counseling program, [but] I can't honestly complete the remediation program knowing I would have to alter by beliefs," she later told CNN. "I'm not willing to -- and I know I can't -- change my biblical views."
Keeton's case mirrors that of Julea Ward, a former Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Student who was reportedly expelled from a counseling program because of her views on LGBT lifestyles.
Earlier this month, Michigan's House passed a "Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act," which forbids public colleges and universities from discriminating against or disciplining students participating in counseling, social work and psychology programs "because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services."