Missouri State University has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former student who was dismissed from his M.S. in counseling program after expressing concern over counseling same-sex couples due to his religious views.
The Governors of MSU will pay Andrew Cash "the estimated tuition cost for Cash to obtain a master's degree in counseling from Evangel University or another similar institution," according to the settlement, News-Leader reports.
Cash began the program at MSU in 2007. He was a student in excellent standing and nearing the completion of his degree when the disagreement with the school arose in 2011 over counseling gay couples.
"We are honored to have represented Andrew Cash in his quest to serve others with professional counseling, while maintaining his religious convictions," Thomas Olp, an attorney at Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm which had filed a federal civil rights action complaint against MSU on behalf of Cash, said in a statement.
"His religious convictions are protected by the U.S. Constitution and should have been respected in an academic environment," Olp added. "The good news is that we helped Andrew Cash move on with his life to pursue a degree at a university that respects his rights of conscious."
Thomas More Society's complaint against MSU read, "[Cash] was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple. Since he did not give the 'correct' answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program."
"Traditionally, universities have been places for freedom of thought, expression, and religion," Olp said at the time of filing the complaint. "Yet we see Missouri State University has betrayed long-held values of academic freedom by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash on the basis of his deeply-held religious beliefs. We are working to correct the denial to freedom of expression and freedom of religion he experienced at MSU."
As a part of the degree program, students are required to complete a 600-hour clinical internship, with 240 hours "face-to-face" with clients. Cash started his internship in January 2011 with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian counseling agency that had been approved by MSU as an internship site.
After hosting a class presentation at SMFI on Christian counseling with the director of the center, it became known to his academic advisor that Cash would not counsel a gay couple in regards to their relationship, a view he shared with those at SMFI. He expressed that he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter and would be glad to refer them to a counselor better fit to advise on same-sex relationship matters. Suddenly, the school determined SMFI was no longer considered an appropriate location for a school internship due to "ethical concerns."