The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Tuesday heard the appeal of a former Eastern Michigan University graduate student who was expelled over her refusal to counsel a homosexual patient.
Julie Ward enrolled in a counseling practicum course at EMU in 2009 in order to fulfill the requirements for her graduate degree. A few credits shy of finishing her degree, she was assigned a potential client who was seeking assistance regarding a homosexual relationship. However, as a Christian, Ward felt her values and beliefs on homosexuality and extra-marital affairs would not allow her to counsel the patient.
Ward sought the advice of a supervisor.
“She went to her supervisor and said, ‘I may not be the right person for this particular client,” her attorney, Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defense Fund, told The Christian Post.
Consistent with ethical and professional standards on patient referral, Ward was advised to assign the patient to another counselor. But that’s when her trouble began.
Soon thereafter, Ward was informed the only way she could remain in the program was if she agreed to undergo a “remediation” program, with the sole purpose to help her “see the error of her ways” and change her “belief system,” as it related to homosexual relationships.
After Ward refused, a disciplinary hearing was held, whereby an EMU faculty denigrated Ward’s Christian beliefs, leading another faculty member to ask Ward if she viewed her “brand” of Christianity as “superior” to that of other Christians. As a result of the hearing, Ward was dismissed from the counseling program and after appealing to the dean of the College of Education, her expulsion was upheld.
EMU, located in Ypsilanti, Mich., has an enrollment of about 23,000 students in both undergraduate and graduate programs. The school’s website states:
“We believe that wisdom, sound judgment, acceptance and respect for other persons, cultures and ideas are characteristics of an educated person. We seek to demonstrate, through all programs, activities and services, an appreciation of human diversity and an atmosphere of mutual respect and support for individual differences.”
Tedesco, who is handling the case on behalf of ADF with Senior Counsel David Cortman, said the case was unfortunate from beginning to end.
“The disciplinary process is the key here. Counseling clients seemed to feel they would be judged more if the counselor is a Christian. That’s certainly not the case here. The school was asking Ms. Ward to affirm a relationship that would have violated her beliefs and that is the foundation of this case.”
A federal district court granted a summary judgment on all accounts on behalf of EMU in July of 2010.
The ADF is seeking an injunction of relief and damages and that Ward be readmitted to the program.
“The harsh and drastic nature of the reaction was unnecessary given that referrals are a common practice with counseling,” Tedesco added. “Instead they (EMU) kicked her out of the program and chastised her for her religious beliefs on the way out the door.”
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel is expected to rule in the next four to six months.
“Unfortunately, I believe we’ll see more cases such as this one, even from professionals who are in a counseling practice in the years ahead, said Tedesco.
A call to EMU by The Christian Post was not returned prior to publication.