Court: Student Counselor Must Treat Gays

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 11 2011 7:25 PM ET

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan have filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in federal appeals court in support Eastern Michigan University in its dispute with a former student.

Julea Ward sued the university after it removed her from the graduate counseling program over her refusal to affirm the relationship of a gay client during a practicum. Ward was training to become a school counselor. She believes homosexuality is immoral and a choice and that she could not counsel the client in good conscience, and maintains being removed from the university program is a breach of her religious freedom.

“While counselors are certainly entitled to their own religious beliefs, EMU correctly took steps to prevent Ms. Ward from imposing those beliefs on her clients in the university’s training program,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, in a press release. “EMU would be remiss if it allowed counseling students to discriminate against clients for any reason, including sexual orientation.”

“LGBT students in crisis should be able to turn to a school counselor for help without fearing rejection or judgment,” said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Guidance counselors have a duty to treat all students fairly and professionally regardless of who the students are or what issues they are grappling with.”

Ward previously asked a lower court to force the university to allow her to participate in the course study while refusing to counsel gay clients. The courts denied her request, and has appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District to step.

The ACLU’s amicus brief can be found here.