The American Civil Liberties Union in collaboration with the ACLU of Michigan, filed a court brief Friday supporting Eastern Michigan’s right to remove Julea Ward, a former graduate student, from its counseling program because she refused to counsel a homosexual client.
Ward previously asked a district court to require the university to allow her to participate in EMU’s counseling program without working with gay clients. The court denied her request and Friday, the ACLU asked the court to affirm the lower court’s decision.
Ward was in training to become a school counselor.
Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU program on Freedom of Religion and Belief said although he believes counselors are entitled to their own religious beliefs, EMU took the correct steps to prevent Ward from imposing her beliefs upon her clients.
“EMU would be remiss if it allowed counseling students to discriminate against clients for any reason, including sexual orientation,” Mach said.
EMU’s counseling program requires its graduate students to adhere to the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, which prohibits counselors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the ACLU.
Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU in Michigan, said there is no place for discrimination when counseling people in need.
“The university has a professional obligation to teach its counseling students to deal with a range of people and issues, and to ensure that clients are not harmed by their counselor’s actions,” Moss said.
James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said LGBT students in crisis should be able to turn to a counselor for help without fearing rejection or judgment.
“Guidance counselors have a duty to treat all students fairly and professionally regardless of who the students are or what issues they are grappling with,” Essesks said in a statement.
In the brief, the ACLU argues the first amendment does not bar a public university from requiring students to counsel clients “in a manner consistent with the ethical code governing the profession that the student is being trained to enter.”
According to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, counselors cannot “condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion or spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status or partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.”
The National Association of Scholars has filed a brief in support of Julea Ward.
Peter Wood, president of the NAS, said in a statement his organization is concerned about the erosion of freedom of conscience in American higher education.
“Julea Ward’s case is yet another instance in which university officials in the helping professions pursue a political agenda by calling it an academic standard,” Wood said. “But there was no legitimate academic reason to force Julea Ward to disavow her religious beliefs or to conform to the beliefs preferred by the counseling program’s faculty.”
NAS’s brief states, “In a society where people—both counselors and clients—hold very different moral and religious views, it makes perfect sense that referrals would be a legitimate and valuable option for counselors who foresee a potential conflict with the client‘s goals.”
EMU Junior Jay Preston, said he’s been following the case and thinks Ward should not be forced to counsel a homosexual student if she feels she isn’t the best person to do so.
“I think she has a good case,” Preston said. “She did what was right. She tried to refer him and that’s what a good counselor does.”
EMU sophomore Tamlyn Cooper said she thinks Ward was wrong for not seeing the client.
“I wonder what type of damage that did to her client,” Cooper said. “It probably made him feel
even worse about himself. I totally agree with the university.”