Springfield, Mo. - A former counseling student says that he was pushed out of a university after saying that he would refer same-sex couples to another counselor, due to his Christian beliefs.
“Traditionally, universities have been places for free exchange of ideas and values, both religious and secular,” Thomas Olp, executive director and attorney for the Thomas More Society, said April 21.
“Unfortunately, Missouri State University departed from its mission by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash simply because he expressed, in an academic setting, sincerely-held religious beliefs which his advisor deemed hostile to her own and therefore unacceptable.”
Andrew Cash was dismissed from a master’s program in counseling at the university after his advisor claimed that it was unethical for him to decline to counsel same-sex couples and refer them to another counselor instead.
Cash is seeking reinstatement in the program in a lawsuit against the governors of Missouri State University. The Chicago-based Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit on Cash’s behalf.
The lawsuit charges that Cash was “penalized for expressing his religious views.” The suit claims that the counseling program treated him differently than other students “because he is a Christian and because of his Christian beliefs.”
Suzanne Shaw, a spokeswoman for the university, told the Springfield News Leader she could not comment on the specifics of pending litigation. She said the university “strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class.”
Cash was almost finished with his degree in the program at Missouri State University in January 2011 when he sought to fulfill the degree program’s internship requirements, the Thomas More Society said. He chose an internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute. The university had approved the Christian-based counseling agency as an internship site.
Cash asked his internship supervisor at the institute to speak to his class about Christian counseling, with the approval his instructor. The institute’s chief counselor said that the organization was open with its clients about its Christian values and practices.
During the presentation, the counselor answered questions about the institute’s treatment of homosexual clients. It counsels these clients on an individual basis, but prefers to refer same-sex couples for relationship counseling to counselors whose religious views would better fit that purpose.
A student complained to Cash’s faculty advisor, who later questioned Cash on the subject.
Cash said he agreed that he could not counsel same-sex couples, but he would refer them elsewhere to a counselor who could best serve them.
The faculty advisor said such a position would violate the American Counseling Association’s ethics code, claiming such action constituted discrimination against homosexual persons.
According to the Thomas More Society, the faculty advisor ordered him to stop attending the institute and told the institute it was no longer a proper place for an internship. The university later stripped the internship hours from Cash’s record.
When Cash sought another internship, his advisor required him to meet certain suitability standards. The advisor later wrote to department officials and claimed that it appeared the student had not renounced his religious views and his support for the institute.
She recommended that Cash be placed into remediation. University officials agreed and placed several requirements upon him. Cash was expelled from the program in November 2014.
Cash’s lawsuit said he suffered economic injury and “irreparable harm” because of the university’s decision. He is seeking punitive damages.
A similar controversy took place at Eastern Michigan University. In 2009, counseling student Julea Ward was told she had to provide relationship counseling to a client in a same-sex relationship rather than make a referral to another counselor. She said she could not affirm a relationship against her faith, and a review board expelled her from the school.
After a lawsuit, Eastern Michigan University paid a settlement to Ward and removed her expulsion from her record.