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|Federal appeals court upholds expulsion of anti-gay Ga. college student|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|December 19, 2011 13:15|
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court's ruling that an Augusta State University student should be expelled from the school's counseling program because her anti-gay beliefs went against the ethical guidelines for being a school counselor.
Jennifer 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.
The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court stated in its ruling:
"We conclude that the evidence in this record does not support Keeton’s claim that ASU’s officials imposed the remediation plan because of her views on homosexuality. Rather, as the district court found, the evidence shows that the remediation plan was imposed because she expressed an intent to impose her personal religious views on her clients, in violation of the ACA [American Counseling Association] Code of Ethics, and that the objective of the remediation plan was to teach her how to effectively counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics ...
"In seeking to evade the curricular requirement that she not impose her moral values on clients, Keeton is looking for preferential, not equal, treatment."
The three-judge panel making the ruling in the Keeton case is the same panel that ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was discriminated against by the state when she was fired from her job as a legislative editor for the General Assembly after she informed her superiors she was transitioning from male to female.
U.S. District Judge Randall Hall 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.
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 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: Augusta State University student Jennifer Keeton (file photo)
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