In January 2009, Julea Ward, who is a Christian, was a graduate student in the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University. She was nearing the end of the program and had accumulated a 3.91 GPA. Then she was expelled.
Why? Well, EMU asked her to counsel a client in a manner that would have violated her Biblically-based faith and values. Following standard profession practice, she asked her supervising professor whether it would be okay to reassign the client to a different counselor. EMU expelled her from the program for making this simple referral request, and because of the religious beliefs that motivated it.
Unfortunately, media reports on Ward’s lawsuit often claim that EMU expelled her for refusing to counsel gay clients. This is simply untrue. She asked for the referral because her religious beliefs prevent her from providing counseling on any non-marital sexual relationship. This means Ward would raise the same values conflict regardless of the sexual orientation of the client seeking such assistance.
Put simply, Ward would raise the same conflict and seek a referral regardless of whether the client was homosexual and seeking counseling on a non-marital sexual relationship (which is the context in which her referral request arose) or if the client was heterosexual and seeking counseling on a non-marital sexual relationship. The “gay animus” angle often seen in media reports is dead wrong.
It is also important to note that referrals, including those based on values conflicts, are common and accepted in the counseling profession. The code of ethics for the profession contains two provisions endorsing the practice of referring clients. Ward acted consistent with these provisions, and with the advice of her supervising professor, by having a client reassigned in a situation where she believed another counselor would be better suited to meet his needs. The profession is, after all, most concerned with serving the best interests of clients. And sometimes, a client’s best interests are served by working with a different counselor.
Rather than approving Ward’s simple request to refer a single client, EMU initiated disciplinary proceedings against her. EMU also informed Ward that the only way she could remain in the counseling program was if she agreed to undergo a “remediation” program aimed at changing her “belief system.”
Unsurprisingly, Ward declined the “remediation” program. And who would agree to such a thing? It is hard to imagine any student agreeing to change their beliefs as a condition to getting their degree.
In addition to the Orwellian “remediation” program, the disciplinary proceedings also involved EMU professors putting Ward’s religious beliefs on trial.
For example, during Ward’s final disciplinary hearing, Suzanne Dugger, one of EMU’s counseling faculty, asked Ms. Ward whether she viewed her “brand of Christianity as superior” to other Christians who may disagree with her. And Perry Francis, another EMU faculty member, told Ward he was going to take her on a “theological bout” and then directly attacked her understanding and interpretation of scripture.
Throughout these things, Ward remained steadfast, refusing to abandon her religious convictions or violate them as a condition to getting her degree.
What is amazing about Ward’s situation is EMU’s harsh and drastic reaction to her request to refer a single client. Rather than honoring Ward’s simple request (which, again, was consistent with the professional standards regarding referral), EMU expelled an academically stellar student and, in the process of doing so, targeted and attacked the religious beliefs that motivated her referral request and told her she had to change them to get her degree.
Now, instead of being a Christian and a graduate student at EMU, Ward is but another Christian whom the tolerant left will not tolerate.