The case of a former Eastern Michigan University student being dismissed from the university’s counseling program for refusing to counsel a gay client is set to go to trial next month.
Julea Ward was enrolled in a counseling program at EMU where students counsel five to eight clients a semester from the general public. When Ward read the file of a client seeking counseling for a same-sex relationship, she believed counseling the client would violate her religious beliefs.
Ward said EMU dismissed her from the counseling program because of her religious beliefs, but the university said she was dismissed for not following the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics.
After Ward declined services to a gay client, professor Yvonne Callaway directed the client to a different counselor, according to legal documents obtained by The Eastern Echo.
The Echo previously reported that Callaway met with Ward and informed her she would not be assigned other clients. Ward was then dismissed from the program March 12, 2009.
In June 2012, a bill called the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act” was passed in Michigan’s House.
Huffpost Detroit reported the bill “would forbid public colleges and universities from discriminating against or disciplining students participating in counseling, social work and psychology programs ‘because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.’”
The bill has received support from the Michigan Family Forum and the state’s attorney general, but received opposition from several groups including Equality Michigan, the National Organization for Women, the Michigan School of Professional Psychology, the Michigan Counseling Association and the Presidents’ Council of Public Universities.
After Ward’s dismissal she brought a lawsuit against EMU, and said her ultimate goal was to be readmitted into the program.
The lawsuit brought against the university by Ward was dismissed in July 2010 by U.S. District Judge Caram Steeh after being denied dismissal or summary judgment in March of that same year.
Steeh said EMU had a “rational basis” for implementing the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics into its counseling program and requiring students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.
Steeh said according to court documents, Ward’s refusal to counsel based on her own personal value system is failure to fulfill one of the program’s academic requirements.
In October 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard arguments in Ward’s case, but sent Ward’s case back to the district court in January, ruling it deserved a trial by jury.
Ward was legally represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal alliance, and her lawsuit against the university was reinstated by the federal court of appeals.
Ward’s lawyer Jeremy Tedesco said, “Ward is seeking admission back into her program, her degree, an unforeseen sum in damages and an ‘injunctive relief that would prohibit the school from being able to do this again in the future to another student.”
EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft said in a statement, “No legal findings were made against the university,” but the Sixth Circuit Court decided there needed to be “additional legal proceedings before a decision can be reached.”