- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2010

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have sued Augusta State University in Georgia on behalf of a counseling student who claims the university told her to deny her Christian beliefs in order to graduate.

Jennifer Keeton, 24, who is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, said she was ordered to undergo a re-education plan that requires her to attend “diversity sensitivity training,” complete additional remedial reading and write papers to describe their effects on her beliefs, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The ultimatum: Complete this re-education plan or be expelled from ASU’s Counselor Education Program.

ASU said Miss Keeton’s conduct violates the code of ethics to which counselors and counselors in training are required to adhere, including those of the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association.

“It’s hard to conceive of a more blatant violation of her right to freedom of speech and her freedom of conscience,” said David French, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative-leaning group that defends religious freedom. “This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop.”

ASU officials, in an e-mail to a Washington Times reporter, said they could not comment on the lawsuit.

“There is little I can say right now since there is a pending lawsuit. ASU does not discriminate on the basis of any individual’s moral, religious, political or personal views or beliefs,” said Kathy Schofe, the university’s public relations director.

Erin Martz, manager of ethics and professional standards at the American Counseling Association, said that although she couldn’t specifically address Miss Keeton’s case, “The ACA Code of Ethics serves to ensure that counselors and counselors-in-training conduct themselves in a way which is consistent with the ideals of the profession. As such, the core values of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion are present throughout the code and are crucial to the ethical decision-making process.”

Miss Keeton’s case is one of several nationwide in which counseling students have been dismissed from programs or threatened with expulsion because of their Christian beliefs.

One case involves counseling student Julea Ward, who was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University’s School of Counseling after she refused to change her beliefs. After a client asked Miss Ward for advice on a same-sex relationship, she asked her adviser on how to help her client because, she said, she couldn’t morally affirm such relationships. Miss Ward ultimately referred her client to another counselor. The university dismissed Miss Ward from the program in March 2009. The case is now being litigated in federal court.

In Miss Keeton’s case, ASU has threatened expulsion because of the Christian ethical convictions she shares in and out of the classroom, given the proper context, on human sexuality and gender identity.

“I have, on a few occasions, shared my biblical convictions and views in assignments in class discussions and with other students,” Miss Keeton says in a video clip provided by the Alliance Defense Fund.

In the remediation plan, the university questions Miss Keeton’s abilities to be “a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.”

When asked by ASU faculty members why she did not attend a Christian school, Miss Keeton said that none of those colleges would accept her ASU credits and that those schools had much higher tuition rates.

“Christians are taxpayers, too,” said Mr. French. “They have as much a right to attend these schools as anyone else, and this public university is treating Christians as second-class citizens to even suggest such a thing.”

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