Ga. Student Counselor Fired for Religious Views on Homosexuality Loses Case

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By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
June 28, 2012|11:58 am

A Christian student at a Georgia university who was expelled from her school's counseling program for expressing her disagreement with homosexuality has lost a court case against the school.

"(Jennifer) Keeton's speech and conduct were evidently impelled by the absolutist philosophical character of her beliefs, but that character does not entitle her to university accommodation and it is irrelevant to the court's analysis," wrote Judge J. Randall Hall, of the Southern District of Georgia, siding with the university. "Neutrality as a legal standard is immutable, it does not bend to the strength or tenor of personal conviction."

Keeton refused to change the way she engages with homosexual students because of her religious beliefs, and was expelled from the counseling program at Augusta State University in 2010, which stressed that the program should not discriminate against students regardless of their sexual orientation.

Keeton argued, however, that it was the school that showed discrimination for firing her because of the way she applied her religious views. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the former counselor in July 2010, citing that she was fired by Augusta State for expressing her religious views on homosexuality in a private conversation.

"We are currently evaluating the district court's opinion and will make a determination on our next step in the case shortly," ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco shared with The Christian Post Thursday.

Keeton was initially placed on probation, and school officials required her to follow a "remediation plan." This included attending sensitivity training, going to gay pride events and writing papers on her experiences and the lessons she had learned in tolerance. When Keeton refused to comply, she was removed from her position.

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"The remediation plan imposed on Keeton pursuant to those policies placed limits on her speech and burdened her religious beliefs, but, as the allegations show, the plan was motivated by a legitimate pedagogical interest in cultivating a professional demeanor and concern that she might prove unreceptive to certain issues and openly judge her clients," the judge said. "The allegations show, in sum, that while Keeton was motivated by her religious beliefs, Defendants were not."

Hall added that the American School Counselor Association's Ethical Standards for School Counselors clearly states that counselors cannot impose their own values on clients, and must take on each case from a neutral viewpoint. The judge also defended Augusta State's remediation plan, stating that it did not infringe on Keeton's first amendment rights, but was an attempt to get her to comply with the school's policies.

In a similar case, Julea Ward from Eastern Michigan University was also expelled from her counseling job because of her views on homosexuality. She had requested that a gay client be transferred to another counselor, which the school argued went against its policies, despite the fact that it allows client transfers based on non-religious reasons. A lower-court initially ruled in favor of Eastern Michigan University, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, arguing that Ward's constitutional rights were violated.

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