Lawmakers in Michigan are preparing to call on the carpet leaders of taxpayer-supported universities across the state after top officials at Eastern Michigan University expelled from a counseling program a Christian student who refused to argue in support of the homosexual lifestyle.
As WND reported, trouble began for master’s-program student Julea Ward when she refused to accept a client whose issue concerned a homosexual relationship.
The school expelled her from the counseling program March 12, 2009, for refusing to abrogate her own personal religious beliefs and support the homosexual lifestyle.
Since then, Ward has brought a lawsuit through the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom.
Now members of the Michigan Senate have approved legislation that includes a provision calling on university counseling programs to evaluate and affirm how they can accommodate the religious beliefs of students.
“Sec. 486. It is the intent of the legislature that each public university shall submit a report to the house and senate appropriations committees by October 15, 2010, on the university’s efforts to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of students enrolled in counseling degree programs at the university,” says the provision, added to pending legislation and approved by the state Senate.
Eastern Michigan president Susan W. Martin
State Rep. Tom McMillin told WND the case was “extremely alarming,” and there was growing support for an effort to penalize universities that don’t accomodate religious beliefs.
“This is a state-taxpayer-supported university,” he said. “She’s got a court case. Hopefully that will be resolved.”
He said an effort to cut funding by 5 percent failed only because of federal mandates about education funding. But he said Senate members agreed with the demand for an accounting of how students’ beliefs are accommodated.
The plan has been adopted by the Senate and now moves to the House, where McMillin said he believes there is concern over the issue.
Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan said there is a valid point to the legislation since, among other things, taxpayers would be on the hook for damages should those be determined in Ward’s case.
She has described her case in her own words:
Glenn’s organization reported that Ward, a Southfield public-school teacher, was seeking her graduate degree in counseling. She was assigned to an individual who wanted help with his homosexual relationship.
Ward told her supervisor – before there was a meeting with the client – that because of her beliefs, she could not counsel in affirmation of the homosexual relationship but could work with any other issue that arose.
The AFA of Michigan reported she followed her supervisor’s instructions to refer the man to another counselor. But she immediately was investigated by an academic committee and later expelled, even though she had a 3.91 GPA and was only months away from graduation.
Ward had explained in detail to school officials she was not discriminating against someone based on sexual orientation.
“I told Dr. Callaway and restated in the informal hearing, that I would counsel individuals engaged in homosexual behavior regarding any issue unrelated to that behavior. The only thing I am unwilling to do is validate or affirm homosexual behavior, due to my religious beliefs,” she told a school committee investigating her.
She continued, “The Bible teaches that God ordained sexual relationships between men and women and not between persons of the same sex. … While people may struggle with homosexual inclinations and behavior, I believe (and the Bible teaches) that people should strive to cultivate sexual desires for persons of the opposite sex. I am morally obligated to adhere to these fundamental teachings of the Christian faith. … It would be a violation of my religious beliefs to be required to affirm or validate homosexual conduct.”
Irene Ametrano, one of Eastern’s counseling-faculty members, tried to poke holes in Ward’s beliefs, saying, “Homosexuality, I think it’s pretty well established is not a choice, but you see it as a choice.”
And Perry Francis, another counseling-faculty member, joined in, demanding from to know from Ward whether anyone is “more righteous than another before God.”
Gary Marx, another professor, implied she should not be a counselor.
“I guess what I am trying to figure is how someone with such strong religious beliefs would enter a profession that would cause you to go against those beliefs,” he said.
“The arrogance, disdain, and intolerance with which Eastern Michigan academics treated Julea Ward should be punished and prevented from happening on any other campus, but unfortunately, it’ll be Michigan taxpayers who are left holding the bag for the legal liability and possible financial damages that result from EMU’s egregious violation of her civil rights,” Glenn wrote in a statement.
“The Legislature should act to take taxpayers off the hook and make university employees who violate students’ civil rights individually responsible for their own legal defense,” Glenn said, “specifically by prohibiting the use of state tax dollars to pay attorney’s fees and damages for employees found by a court of law to have violated such rights.”
According to a column posted by David French of the Alliance Defense Fund, the lawsuit is over the fact that Eastern expelled Ward “not because she harmed anyone but simply because she was unwilling to express support for things she did not believe.”
The most recent court ruling in the case allowed it to move forward, rejecting claims from the university that the case should be dismissed because of “qualified immunity.”
Instead, the court ruled, “Ward has sufficiently plead and come forward with evidence that the EMU defendants’ act of dismissing Ward violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights so clearly established that a reasonable official in their position would have clearly understood that they were under an affirmative duty to refrain from such conduct.”
Wrote French, “To be clear, this does not mean that the individual defendants in the case are personally liable, merely that they may be held liable later in the case. But this is still quite significant. It sends an unmistakable signal to university administrators that they do not have a free hand in dealing with students, that students’ First Amendment rights are ‘clearly established,’ and there can be much more at stake in any given case than injunctive relief (which is significant, but has no personal impact on university officials).”
School officials have told WND they don’t comment on pending litigation.
The judge said there are “genuine issues of material fact” about the school’s “true motivations” for dismissing Ward from the program. Further, the judge concluded, the student’s actions to avoid in advance a counseling session for which she had reservations probably followed professional ethical guidelines.