Judge Throws Out Anti-Gay Student Counselor’s Suit


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.

This comes just after the Michigan House recently passed legislation to give counselors a right to refrain to counsel those they believe are sinful.


Related Reading:

‘You Don’t Have to Counsel the Sinful’ Bill Advances in Michigan

Judge Rules Against Anti-Gay Trainee School Counselor

Student Claims University Tried to Force Her into Accepting Gay ‘Lifestyles’

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Max Wolfe.


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

If they can't comply, they should chose another career. Religious beliefs are a private matter and shouldn't intgerfere with your professional life.

Angela Burrow
Angela Burrow5 years ago

Excellent news! I am fed up of religious people crying discrimination when they are in trouble for discriminating against others.

Karen Howard
Karen H5 years ago

I look at it from the point of view of sportscasters. When you watch some games, it's clear who the sportscasters are rooting for. When there's a close play, they side with their team no matter what. Other sportscasters are unbiased. They'll praise great plays by the opposing team and question plays by the home team. They may be former players of the home team, but they come across as unbiased. Counselors should be the same.

Robert C.
Robert Cruder5 years ago

One would expect similar standards to apply to pharmacists whose customers want to purchase contraceptive products.

One would expect similar standards to apply to physicians whose patients want voluntary sterilization.

One would expect similar standards to apply to hospitals whose patients need a variety of medical services that might be opposed by a certain foreign autocrat.

A police officer, if he is to remain in that position, must enforce all of the laws, not just the ones that he would have written.

Healers, if they are to retain the privileges granted by their state-issued license, must treat all patients, not just those who share the same religious beliefs and must treat them in accordance with the patient's beliefs, not the healer's.

J.C. H.
Jc Honeycutt5 years ago

I believe that Augusta State University is a state school: as such, one would think it has an obligation to the citizens of the state, regardless of their beliefs or sexual orientations. If someone desiring to be a counselor only wishes to treat those s/he respects, 1) it's likely her/his patient base will be rather small, and 2) s/he should attend an institution that shares her/his "moral" values and does not receive state or federal funds--which would be "tainted" by the inclusion of money from perceived "sinners"; I'm sure there are other, so-called Christian, schools which would be more in line with Ms. Keeton's values. In other words, you can't have it both ways--enjoy the advantages of taxpayer funding of your education & then, while continuing to take their money, refuse to counsel those taxpayers whom you regard as unworthy.

Teresa Cowley
Teresa Cowley5 years ago

The counselor is not supposed to drag their preconceived notions/beliefs into therapy.
Counselors should accept their clients as they are, not as the counselor decides they should be. If they cannot do that, should they be counseling?
Just my opinion.

John B.
John B5 years ago

Thanks Steve for the article. Judge Hall was very accurate and correct in his decision. No mater what your profession, is personal beliefs should not come into play. Gene J. And Dr. James C. I cannot send you another green star yet but both your comments deserve it.

Edward Allan
Edward Allan5 years ago

And should a Christian Scientist be allowed to become a physician, let alone treat patients, if s/he refused to take courses that taught that some illnesses are better treated with medicines than with positive thinking??

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

So she wanted to sue for being "discriminated" against for discriminated against others? Yup, makes perfect sense to me!

Lauren B.

Oh please. Anyone an have any personal beliefs they want but if they wish to work in the public sphere they must learn tolerance and respect for difference and to behave professionally at all times. If she had won this suit then religious justifications for racial discrimination, oppression of women, suppression of girls, etc. would plague us forever. If you can't live with peace and respect in the world with the rest of us, go live on some compound somewhere where everyone thinks like you do.