Will university’s expulsion of Christian grad student stand?

Eastern Michigan University ousted student from counseling program for not affirming homosexual behavior; ADF attorney available to media after hearing
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WHO:  ADF Senior Counsel David French

WHAT:  Available for media interviews after hearing in Ward v. Wilbanks

WHEN:  Thursday, June 24, immediately following hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. EDT

WHERE:  U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, 231 W. Lafayette Blvd., Courtroom 236, Detroit

DETROIT — Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel David French will be available for media interviews Thursday following a summary judgment hearing in Ward v. Wilbanks, a lawsuit filed by ADF attorneys against Eastern Michigan University on behalf of student Julea Ward.  EMU dismissed Ward from its graduate counseling program in March 2009 for not affirming homosexual behavior as morally acceptable.  Ward would not agree to change her religious beliefs about homosexual behavior or express a message contrary to them during counseling sessions as a condition to receiving a degree.  French will argue that the case should be decided in Ward’s favor without further proceedings.

“Christian students shouldn’t be expelled for abiding by their beliefs,” said French.  “Affirming homosexual behavior against one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree.”

EMU initiated its disciplinary process against Ward shortly after she enrolled in a counseling practicum course in January 2009, when she was assigned a potential client seeking assistance regarding a homosexual relationship.  Recognizing the potential conscience issue with the client, and knowing she could not affirm the client’s homosexual relationship without violating her religious beliefs, Ward asked her supervisor how to handle the matter.  Ward was advised to reassign the potential client to a different counselor.  Shortly thereafter, EMU informed Ward that the only way she could stay in the counseling program would be if she agreed to undergo a “remediation” program.  Its purpose was to help her “see the error of her ways” and change her “belief system” as it relates to counseling about homosexual relationships.  Ward did not agree to the unconstitutional conditions.

At a subsequent formal review meeting, EMU faculty denigrated Ward’s Christian views and asked several inappropriate and intrusive questions about her religious beliefs.  A faculty committee then dismissed her from the counseling program.  Ward appealed, but the dean of EMU College of Education upheld the dismissal.

“Julea merely followed her supervising professor’s advice by referring a potential client to a counselor who had no conscience issue with the particular matter to be discussed,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.  “She would have gladly counseled the client herself had the topic focused on any other matter.”

The university’s actions were enabled by EMU policies that ADF attorneys are challenging in the lawsuit as flagrantly unconstitutional.  One policy that prohibits “discrimination based on…sexual orientation” problematically adds that counselors cannot “condone” what the university defines as discrimination.  A second policy being challenged states that EMU’s counseling department may discipline a student who demonstrates a “failure to tolerate different points of view.”

In March, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the professors who expelled Ward may be held personally liable for their actions.  Steven M. Jentzen, one of nearly 1,700 attorneys in the ADF alliance, is serving as local counsel in the case.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. 

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