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Student Sues Eastern Michigan University; Claims was Dismissed for Not "Affirming" Being Gay

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on April 06, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Although the debate over gay marriage has been getting the lion's share of media coverage, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was sued in a noteworthy case by former student Julea Ward, alleging she was dismissed from EMU's Graduate School Counseling Program "solely because her religious beliefs and expression regarding homosexual behavior contradicted the views of the EMU counseling department." In a press release, the Alliance Defense Fund clarified that the student was dismissed for not "affirming homosexual behavior as morally acceptable", as required by the school's program.

The complaint filed by the ADF on behalf of the student, further asserts that counseling department at the school prohibits students from advising clients that they can refrain from homosexual conduct. The case arose after a client in the program sought counseling from Ward regarding a homosexual relationship. Ward, who "believes that homosexual conduct is immoral sexual behavior," asked a supervisor whether she should continue to see the client or refer them on to another counselor. Despite referring the client on to another counselor, Ward had disciplinary proceedings brought against her, and was later dismissed from the program after she refused to go through what the complaint described as a "remediation" program.

The suit claims the school violated federal civil rights laws and various of Ward's constitutional rights, particularly her freedom of speech and religion. In addition to unspecified damages, the suit seeks an injunction to immediately reinstate Ward to the school's program, which she had nearly completed at the time she was dismissed.

The case could arguably be seen as the flip-side to Free Speech cases such as one brought last year against a principal that had attempted to ban rainbows at a Florida high school. A federal court later found that this constituted a violation of the First Amendment. In Ward's case, as argued by ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, "Julea has a constitutional right not to be compelled to speak a message she disagrees with. She acted as a professional counselor should-with great concern both for her beliefs and the client".

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