An Augusta State University student filed suit Wednesday after she was told to change her Christian beliefs or otherwise be expelled from the school's graduate counseling program.
"A public university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that’s exactly what’s happening here," said David French, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund. "Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform."
Jennifer Keeton, 24, has been enrolled in the College of Education's School Counselor masters degree program since fall 2009. She has expressed her Christian beliefs in class discussions and written assignments, but it was her views regarding gender and sexuality that irked faculty.
According to the filed complaint, "She has stated that she believes sexual behavior is the result of accountable personal choice rather than an inevitability deriving from deterministic forces. She also has affirmed binary male-female gender, with one or the other being fixed in each person at their creation, and not a social construct or individual choice subject to alteration by the person so created. Further, she has expressed her view that homosexuality is a 'lifestyle,' not a 'state of being.'"
In May, Keeton was notified that she would be asked to participate in a remediation plan. Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley, an associate professor who also oversees student education and discipline, explained that the faculty wanted to see Keeton's writing skills improve and that they are concerned with some of her beliefs and views pertaining to GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) issues.
Several faculty members later met with the student and told her that they considered her to be failing to conform to certain professional standards. In a written Remediation Plan, the faculty said her speech on GLBT matters violated the codes of ethics that counselors and those in training are required to adhere to.
Keeton's views "depart from what 'the psychological research about GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) populations asserts' that that 'sexual orientation is not a lifestyle or choice, but a state of being,'" faculty members said.
The Remediation Plan required that Keeton attend workshops on diversity sensitivity training toward working with GLBTQ populations, work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations by attending such events as the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta, and read more on the topic to improve counseling effectiveness with GLBTQ populations.
Failure to complete all elements of the remediation plan will result in dismissal from the Counselor Education Program, according to the plan.
Keeton told faculty members, "I can’t alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation."
But she stressed, "I understand the need to reflect clients’ goals and to allow them to work toward their own solutions, and I know I can do that."
When Keeton asked why her biblical ethical views would disqualify her competence as a counselor, Anderson-Wiley at one point responded, "Christians see this population as sinners." Though Keeton stated that all people are sinners, including herself, Anderson-Wiley told her that she had a choice of standing by the Bible or by the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. Keeton chose the Bible.
"Abandoning one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree," ADF's David French contended. "This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer’s only crime was to have the beliefs that she does."