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|Anti-gay Ga. counseling student's lawsuit dismissed|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|June 28, 2012 15:03|
Jennifer Keeton, a former graduate counseling student who sued Augusta State University for expelling her because her beliefs went against ethical guidelines for being a school counselor, had her lawsuit dismissed on all counts in federal court.
The ruling, by U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall on June 22, said Keeton had no claim to argue that the university was biased against because of her religious beliefs including homosexuality is immoral. As a graduate student in counseling who hoped to be a counselor in secondary schools, Keeton would have to follow the ethical guidelines of being a counselor that included not allowing personal beliefs interfere with judgment.
Hall's ruling upholds the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on a lower court case that also ruled Keeton's lawsuit was unfounded.
Keeton, who describes herself as a Christian and was attending ASU to become a school counselor for grades K-12, sued the university after professors recommended she undertake a remediation plan as a way to teach her more about LGBT issues. The plan included attending workshops on LGBT issues as well as attending Augusta Pride.
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.
In his June 22 ruling, Hall wrote:
Boundaries drawn through decades of case law establish the whither and when of such regulation, and, after carefully considering the factual content of Keeton's allegations, the Court concludes that Defendants acted within those bounds - there is no room to reasonably infer otherwise.
The policies incorporated into the Counselor Program set the standards of conduct which govern the profession that Keeton chose to enter; Keeton was fairly apprised of what those policies demanded and she has failed to show that they had an undue chilling effect on student speech. The remediation plan imposed on Keeton pursuant to those policies placed limits on her speech and burdened her religious beliefs, but, as the allegations show, the plan was motivated by a legitimate pedagogical interest in cultivating a professional demeanor and concern that she might prove unreceptive to certain issues and openly judge her clients.
Furthermore, these concerns and the policies from which they were derived are
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 Keeton's 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 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
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