Friday, March 1, 2013

Ejected Counselor Gets Cash, Loses Cause

In December, Julea Ward settled her lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University (EMU).
As a counseling student, Ward refused on religious grounds to counsel patients about same-sex relationships. When her teachers could not change her mind, they expelled her.

She sued the university in federal court.

“The resolution of the lawsuit leaves the University’s policies, programs, and curricular requirements intact,” said Walter Kraft, the university’s vice president for communications.

“The faculty retains the right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program.”

EMU paid Ward $75,000 to settle.

Although Ward made money out of the suit, the settlement constitutes a defeat for her Religious Right backer, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

ADF had aimed for much more, to curtail the power of the American Counseling Association (ACA), whose ethics code governs non-sectarian counseling programs.

Well before the settlement, the EMU student newspaper quoted Ward’s ADF 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.”

In January 2012, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals made a superficially sympathetic ruling in Ward’s suit. It said a jury might find that her teachers had acted from personal religious bias. It sent the case back to the District Court for a trial on the facts.

However, the Appeals Court did not find fault with the ACA code of ethics.

Therefore, ADF had little to gain from a trial. If the ethics code stood, an EMU defeat on the facts would lead only to more tactful code enforcement.

The Ypsilanti Reporter wrote, “Ward’s legal counsel, Jeremy Tedesco, said he is pleased and feels that Ward’s constitutionally protected rights have been ‘vindicated.’”
The case is Ward v. Polite.

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