A federal appeals court ruled that Julea Ward, a graduate counseling student expelled from Eastern Michigan University after she refused to see a gay client, might have been discriminated against because of her faith.
The Religion News Service reports on the decision Friday from the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A lower court had sided with the university, but the appeals court sent the case back to a district court for another hearing, saying that Ward may have a valid claim that her First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion were violated.
Ward, an evangelical Christian, was expelled from Eastern Michigan University in 2009 after she refused to serve a client who wanted counseling about a same-sex relationship. She asked to have the client referred to another counselor, but the university said she was required to support the client.
Advocates for Ward, who is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal group, praised the ruling as a victory, but the university emphasized that the appeals court had called for more review, not ruled in favor of Ward.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the case is one of two in federal courts right now that focus on whether graduate programs in psychology can require students to abide by professional codes that mandate all clients be treated in affirming ways. In the other case, Jennifer Keeton, a master's program student at Augusta State University in Georgia, wanted to avoid affirming gay clients and to encourage them to seek "conversion" therapy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her claims in a December ruling, and the Sixth Circuit did not disagree with the decision in its ruling Friday.