An anti-gay trainee school counselor who sued her former university after they gave her the boot for refusing to follow clinical standards when it came to affirming gay patients, had her case dismissed by an appellate court judge last week who ruled that the university didn’t discriminate against her and that she does not get special exemptions because of her religion.
Judge J. Randal Hall, ruling against self-avowed Christian Jennifer Keeton in her suit against Georgia’s Augusta State University, said the issue had nothing to do with the morality but everything to do with Ms Keeton’s having entered into a program that was designed to make her a professional clinician:
Baldly stated in outline, they amount to no more than this: a student enrolled in a professional graduate program was required to complete a course of remediation after being cited for purported professional deficiencies by educators in her chosen field of study; she refused to do so and was dismissed from the program.
With this in mind, Judge Hall examined whether the University’s requirements placed upon Ms. Keeton were exorbitant. He found they were not, as they only required Ms Keeton to act in the professional manner she had agreed to submit to upon entering the program:
The counselor program’s charge is to train and prepare students to become licensed professional counselors, and to this end ASU faculty and officials have incorporated into the program professional codes of conduct applicable to practicing counselors. Indeed, adoption of the professional codes and the concomitant remediation mechanism were measures animated in large part by the desire to obtain and maintain the counselor program’s professional accreditation — an important designation that assures students, employers, and the public that its curriculum meets professional standards. The legitimate sweep of the program’s policies therefore cannot be doubted.
On Ms Keeton’s charge that the University had actively discriminated against her because of her religious beliefs, Judge Hall found no evidence to support this claim:
Keeton’s conflation of personal and professional values, or at least her difficulty in discerning the difference, appears to have been rooted in her opinion that the immorality of homosexual relations is a matter of objective and absolute moral truth. The policies which govern the ethical conduct of counselors, however, with their focus on client welfare and self-determination, make clear that the counselor’s professional environs are not intended to be a crucible for counselors to test metaphysical or moral propositions. Plato’s Academy or a seminary the Counselor Program is not; that Keeton’s opinions were couched in absolute or ontological terms does not give her constitutional license to make it otherwise.
Judge Hall also found that the University’s remediation plan, that had been implemented to try and help Keeton address her demonstrated shortcomings when it came to patient care, was not motivated by a desire to punish her but rather a concern that she had failed to demonstrate proper conduct:
Keeton’s allegations do not show that imposition of the remediation plan was substantially motivated by her personal religious views. The plan was instead imposed because she was unwilling to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics.
Judge Hall then succinctly categorized his dismissal of Keeton’s claim with the following:
[...] when someone voluntarily chooses to enter a profession, he or she must comply with its rules and ethical requirements.
Keeton, together with the self described Christian legal group the Alliance Defense Fund, filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Augusta back in July of 2010.
The lawsuit claimed that Keeton’s First Amendment rights were violated when course leaders in the K-12 school counseling program assigned her remedial work after staff became concerned due to Keeton repeatedly refrencing in class, out of class and in written essays, her personal belief that gay and lesbian people choose their sexual orientation, that it is an unhealthy lifestyle choice, and that homosexuality is due to some kind of gender confusion and a lack gender binary roles. When prompted, Keeton had also affirmed that she would not tell a gay student their sexual orientation was normal or healthy, despite this being the medical consensus, but would instead tell them they could choose to change.
It is not known at this time whether Keeton will appeal the ruling.