UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): Eastern Michigan released a media statement following the oral arguments that were heard today in the Sixth Circuit Court. Walter Kraft, EMU’s Vice President of Communications, said the university is “confident” the July 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in favor of Eastern Michigan University, will be upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
From the media release:
“This case has never been about religion or religious discrimination. It is not about homosexuality or sexual orientation. This case is about what is in the best interest of a client who is in need of counseling, and following the curricular requirements of our highly-respected and nationally-accredited counseling program, which adheres to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association. Those Ethical Standards require that counselors are not to allow their personal values to intrude into their professional work.”
“As one of the premiere teacher-training institutions in the United States, Eastern Michigan University takes seriously our Constitutional mission to ensure that every student who graduates from our academic programs meets applicable curricular and regulatory requirements. We will continue to pursue and defend this mission at every opportunity.”
“This case is important to Eastern Michigan, it also is important to universities across the country, as well as to the several universities in Michigan that have filed briefs in support of our position in this case.”
From earlier today(10:44 a.m.): The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will hear arguments today in the case of former Eastern Michigan University graduate student Julea Ward who was removed from EMU’s counseling program after she refused to counsel lesbian, gay and bisexual clients on any issues relating to same-sex relationships during her clinical training.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in February that argued counselors can’t discriminate as part of professional training at a public university.
“Students seeking counseling must be able to trust that they will receive the help they need, free from discrimination,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling said in a statement. “Counselors are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but they do not have a right to discriminate as part of their professional training at a public university.”
The brief also states that the First Amendment does not bar a public university from requiring students to counsel in “a manner consistent with the university’s counseling curriculum.”
EMU requires its graduate counseling students to meet the university’s clinical standards and abide by the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, which doesn’t allow counselors to discriminate in their clinical practice.
If Ward’s argument is accepted, the ACLU believes it could have “far-reaching consequences” according to the brief.
“EMU has a right to insist that its counseling students understand that mental health professionals have a duty to their clients first and foremost,” Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, said. “Public school counselors should not be able to close their doors to gay students looking for guidance.”