Expelled Counseling Student Wins OK to Sue

By Ashenfelter, David | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), January 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Expelled Counseling Student Wins OK to Sue


Ashenfelter, David, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


DETROIT - An Eastern Michigan University student who was expelled from a counseling program because she refused to counsel gays and lesbians about their lifestyles won a key victory Friday in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-member panel of the court said Julea Ward can argue her religious discrimination suit against the university before a federal court jury in Detroit.

"Ward's free speech claim deserves to go to a jury," Judge Jeffrey Sutton said in an opinion joined by Julia Gibbons and John Adams. Adams is a federal district judge from northern Ohio who was sitting by designation on the appeals court.

"Although the university submits it dismissed Ward from the program because her request for a referral violated the ACA (American Counseling Association) code of ethics, a reasonable jury could find otherwise - that the code of ethics contains no such bar and that the university deployed it as a pretext for punishing Ward's religious views and speech."

Ward's lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund, a faith-based legal group, hailed the decision.

"Public universities shouldn't force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree," said the Alliance's Jeremy Tedesco, the lawyer who argued the case. "The court rightly understood this and ruled appropriately. Rather than allow Julea to refer a potential client to another qualified counselor - a common, professional practice to best serve clients - EMU attacked and questioned Julea's religious beliefs and ultimately expelled her from the program because of them."

Eastern Michigan University cautioned in a statement Friday that the 6th Circuit made no legal findings against the school, did not rule that the university engaged in discrimination and did not rule in Ward's favor in the suit. …

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