Christianity, 'gay rights' clash in counseling controversies
YPSILANTI, Mich. (BP)--A string of recent controversies regarding views on homosexuality in the counseling realm has some wondering whether conservative Christians eventually will be shut out of the profession.
The latest controversy involves Augusta (Ga.) State University, where the faculty allegedly required Jennifer Keeton -- a counseling student with strong Christian beliefs -- to attend "diversity sensitivity" training, increase her interaction with homosexual populations, read scholarly articles about homosexuality, and then write about what she learned and how her beliefs were impacted. The faculty allegedly even encouraged her to attend a "gay pride" parade in Augusta.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, filed suit against the school July 21. The school, in part, pointed to the American Counseling Association's (ACA) code of ethics, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a host of categories, including "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." The American School Counselors Association has a similar code.
The Augusta case, though, is only the latest dust-up pitting religious beliefs against non-discrimination policies.
On July 26 a federal judge ruled that Eastern Michigan University was within its rights to dismiss a graduate student, Julea Ward, from its counseling program because she chose not to counsel a homosexual patient; the man previously had been counseled about his sexuality and now wanted counseling for depression.
Ward wanted to refer him to another counselor, but the school found her action insufficient. She was given three options: 1) going through a "remediation program," 2) voluntarily withdrawing, or, 3) going before a university panel. She chose to appear before the panel, which found she had violated the ACA's code of ethics. The panel, made up of three faculty members and a student representative, even asked Ward if she viewed her "brand of Christianity as superior to that of other Christians who may not agree with her."
Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said Eastern Michigan might as well tell incoming students, "If you want to be in the counseling profession, you better check your conservative, orthodox Christian beliefs at the door."
The Alliance Defense Fund is involved in the Eastern Michigan case and is filing an appeal.
"The problem is that they are dismissing a student from their program because of her sincerely held religious beliefs and views," Tedesco said.
-- In March a federal judge said the Centers for Disease Control was within its rights to release a contracted Georgia counselor, Marcia Walden, who had halted a counseling session with a lesbian client in order to refer the woman to another counselor. The lesbian woman, who wanted counseling pertaining to her relationship with her partner, filed a complaint. Walden is a Christian; the ruling is being appealed.
-- Last fall two complaints were filed against a Maine school counselor, Donald Mendell Jr., for appearing in a television ad supporting an initiative that would overturn the state's "gay marriage" law. The complaints said he had violated the National Association of Social Worker's code of ethics, which bans discrimination against "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." A state board dismissed the complaints in a 2-1 vote.
"One of the interesting things about these non-discrimination policies is that when they were adopted, they were adopted to protect religion," Tedesco said. "The point of it was to keep people from denying you access to services and privileges, because of your religious belief. Today, we have the complete inversion going on, where public universities are saying because of your religious beliefs, we're going to kick you out of school."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.