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|Augusta grad student goes before federal appeals court over anti-gay beliefs|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|November 29, 2011 11:34|
An Augusta State University counseling student is appearing before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today asking not to be expelled from the school because she believes homosexuality is a sin, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Jennifer Keeton, who is studying to be a school counselor for students in grades K-12, filed a lawsuit against the university on July 21, 2010, in the United States District Court Southern Division in Augusta, claiming that the school threatened to expel her because of her Christian belief that being gay or transgender is immoral.
Keeton is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to defending "traditional family values." In her lawsuit, Keeton claimed her First Amendment rights were violated by the university because it stated her biblical opposition to homosexuality — that she would state in class and to other students — went against the professional code for being an ethical counselor.
“Miss Keeton stated to the faculty members that she believes that she will be able to avoid imposing her beliefs on a client, while also maintaining her convictions that certain behaviors are improper.
“However, Miss Keeton did state that she would not in a counseling session agree with the propriety of homosexual relations, nor affirm the propriety of a client pursuing a life of, and a self-definition based on, homosexual relations,” the suit states.
A federal judge ruled Aug. 20, 2010, that Keeton did not deserve a preliminary injunction against Augusta State University for requiring her to follow a "remediation plan" to help her learn to separate her religious belief that homosexuality is immoral from her duty as a counselor not to impart her personal feelings to patients.
Judge J. Randall Hall further ruled the case should not be viewed as "pitting Christianity against homosexuality."
Keeton wrote in a school assignment that "it would be hard [for her] to work with [the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/ questioning] population," according to court documents.
A faculty member reported that Keeton said she would counsel a patient that homosexuality is immoral, and an affidavit from a fellow student said Keeton expressed that she would try to "change" homosexual clients or refer them to conversion therapy to try to make them heterosexual.
According to the lawsuit, she was given a "remediation plan" that focused on her written composition skills and to "address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy," related to LGBT issues.
This portion required her to attend at least three workshops "which emphasize improving cross-cultural communication, developing multicultural competence, or diversity sensitivity training toward working with GLBTQ populations"; "continue to develop her knowledge base on GLBTQ issues by outside reading on the topic" by reading at least 10 articles in peer-reviewed journals related to effective counseling for LGBT people; and to "work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations," and to submit written "reflections" on this work, according to court documents.
The university declined to speak publicly about the pending litigation, but issued a statement on its Facebook page on July 28, 2010:
“There has been much media attention focused on an allegation of discrimination by a student in our counseling program. Augusta State University, a unit of the University System of Georgia, does not discriminate against any individuals on the basis of their personal, social, political, or religious beliefs or views. No student is asked to change their religious beliefs or views in order to participate in any program,” the statement says.
“The counseling profession requires its practitioners to recognize that people set and adhere to their own moral compass. The professional counselor’s job is to help clients clarify their current feelings and behaviors and to help them reach the goals that they have determined for themselves, not to dictate what those goals should be, what morals they should possess, or what values they should adopt,” ASU further stated.
On Nov. 29, 2010, Lambda Legal filed court documents on behalf of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) and the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition.
“It is unethical and dangerous for a counselor to not respect the dignity and promote the welfare of her LGBTQ clients,” said Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta, in a statement.
“When Georgia’s LGBTQ youth are being bullied or thinking about committing suicide, we want them to be speaking with trained counselors who will help not harm them,” Nevins added.
The ACLU and ACLU of Georgia also filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Augusta State University.
“We’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, but counselors cannot use their religion to discriminate against students who come to them for help,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU.
“This is especially important for LGBT students in crisis, who may have already faced rejection and judgment from their community, and who may not have any other trusted adult to talk to.”
Top photo: Jennifer Keeton. (file)
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