The case of a graduate student who was expelled from Eastern Michigan University for refusing to condone same-sex relationships has been permitted to move forward after the US. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that she presented sufficient evidence that she was discriminated against because of her religious beliefs.
According to a press release from The Becket Fund, which submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, the Sixth Circuit issued a major victory for the constitutional rights of individuals with religious beliefs when it ruled in favor of Julea Ward, a 3.91 average student who was expelled from the University for refusing to affirm same-sex relationships in a counseling program.
Ward was just four courses short of graduation and was taking a required counseling practicum when the incident occurred. Although she made it clear that she was willing to counsel homosexual clients on a variety of matters, her religious beliefs forbad her to affirm same-sex relationships. In one instance, she asked her faculty supervisor for permission to refer a homosexual client to another counselor, and the supervisor granted permission. But shortly thereafter, she was expelled from the University on the ground that the referral violated the university’s code of ethics. She then filed a lawsuit, alleging that the expulsion violated her rights of free speech and free exercise of religion.
“No individual should be forced out of their profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” said Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director at the Becket Fund. “Counselors refer clients elsewhere all the time for personal, financial, or ethical reasons, and referrals for religious reasons should be treated no differently.”
The Sixth Circuit ruled that Ward had presented enough evidence of discrimination to allow her suit to go before a jury: “A reasonable jury could find that the university dismissed Ward from its counseling program because of her faith-based speech, not because of any legitimate pedagogical objective,” said the court. “A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree.”
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