Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Detroit — A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit brought against Eastern Michigan University by a master’s student who said she was removed from the school’s counseling program because of her strong religious views against homosexuality. As part of her course work, [Julea] Ward had refused to counsel homosexual clients, saying she believed homosexuality was morally wrong. The university removed Ward from the counseling program after determining her actions violated university policy and the American Counseling Association (ACA) code of ethics....

Furthermore, the university had a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.

[From EMU student’s lawsuit dismissed | | The Detroit News]

In other words, Ward was expelled for her Christian convictions related to homosexuality, and the court affirmed her expulsion by refusing to hear her case. This decision was apparently based, at least in part, on the ACA code of ethics, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:
A.4. Avoiding Harm and Imposing Values
A.4.a. Avoiding Harm
Counselors act to avoid harming their clients, trainees, and research participants and to minimize or to remedy unavoidable or unanticipated harm.

A.4.b. Personal Values
Counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants.

Sexuality and religion receive equal emphasis in the code:
C.5. Nondiscrimination

Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/ spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/ partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law. Counselors do not discriminate against clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants in a manner that has a negative impact on these persons.

Note that the code contains no language pertaining to discrimination against peers or supervisors. As Mark Yarhouse at Limning the Psyche notes, values conflicts are inevitable in counseling:
A politically liberal counselor will meet with a client with strong conservative views; a gay counselor will meet with an Evangelical Christian client; a Catholic counselor will meet with a woman deciding on abortion; an atheist will meet with a devout Muslim.

Typically in the case of such a conflict, a counselor will refer the client to another practitioner. Julea Ward had done that, but it was insufficient:
The school dismissed Julea Ward from the program because she would not agree prior to a counseling session to affirm a client’s homosexual behavior and would not retract her stance in subsequent disciplinary proceedings.

So this is the way it appears, based on the reports to which I have access (all of them linked from this page).

  1. Julea Ward had a values conflict with a potential client.

  2. She referred the client to another counselor.

  3. She did not impose her values on the client.

  4. If her values affected anyone, apparently it was her peers and/or instructors.

  5. Yet she was expelled based on the ACA’s ethical requirement that counselors not impose their values on clients, trainees, and research participants.

Which raises questions:

  1. Did her professors impose their values on her as a trainee (A.4.a)? Is that ethical, according to ACA guidelines?

  2. Did they discriminate against her as a student on the basis of her religion (C.5)?

  3. Suppose a homosexual student counselor were to meet with an Evangelical Christian client. If that student were to refer the client rather than recant his moral beliefs regarding sexuality, would that not be equally a violation (or non-violation) of the code of ethics?

  4. How likely do you suppose it is that said homosexual student would be expelled on that basis?

  5. How did freedom of sexual behaviors come to be privileged above freedom of religion?

Related: Change Your Beliefs or Get Out!

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles