“Surely,…the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion…does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton in January for the unanimous U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Counseling student Julea Ward had refused on religious grounds to counsel patients about same-sex relationships. When her teachers at Eastern Michigan University could not change her mind, they expelled her. She sued the university, claiming religious discrimination.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sympathized with her stand. It sent the case back to U.S. District Court to discover whether her teachers had in fact acted from religious bias.
Commenting on the decision, N.Y. Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer pointed to “the role of the counselor.…Is it to affirm the client’s beliefs, or to offer support and guidance, even to clients whose practices one may find distasteful or morally wrong?”
Oppenheimer wrote, “Daniel Mach, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union,…said that the canons of the profession rightly put the needs of clients ahead of the sensibilities of counselors.”
Eastern Michigan contends that Ward violated the code of the American Counseling Association (ACA) which accredits counseling programs. If Eastern Michigan had graduated Ward, it would have risked its accreditation.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group, represents Ward. In this and a similar case from Georgia, the Religious Right challenges the power of the ACA.
The student newspaper at Eastern Michigan quoted Ward’s lawyer, Jeremy Tedesco, “What we’re seeing is public universities and these associations like the American Counseling Association that adopt these codes of ethics, is those groups starting to interpret the code of ethics in professions that gerrymander people of faith out of the profession completely.”
The case is Ward v. Polite.