ATLANTA — A Georgia graduate student who has sued Augusta State University in a battle over graduate program requirements and her stated anti-gay “Christian beliefs,” has petitioned the U. S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the university from expelling her.
Jennifer Keeton, 24, who is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, said she was ordered to undergo a re-education plan that requires her to attend “diversity sensitivity training” when the school told her that her anti-gay beliefs are incompatible with the standards of her desired profession.
Keeton had said in and out class that, according to her Christian beliefs, homosexuality is immoral and a lifestyle choice.
Keeton is represented by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, which contends that “A public university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith.”
“But that’s exactly what’s happening here,” said David French, senior counsel for the defense fund, in a statement. “Abandoning one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree.”
According to the lawsuit filed in July 2010, faculty members allegedly assailed Keeton’s beliefs as “inconsistent with the counseling profession” and “expressed suspicion over ‘Jen’s ability to be a multi-culturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.'”
The university maintained that it must hold its counseling graduate students “to the core principles of the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association, which defines the roles and responsibilities of professional counselors in its code of ethics.
The code is included in the curriculum of the counseling education program, which states that counselors in training have the same responsibility as professional counselors to understand and follow the ACA Code of Ethics. The faculty identifies Keeton’s views as indicative of her “improper professional disposition to persons of such populations.”
Augusta State University spokeswoman Kathy Schofe told LGBTQ Nation that the university had tried to work with Keeton, suggesting she take diversity sensitivity workshops and attend the local Augusta LGBTQ Pride parade, but Keeton refused and declined to participate claiming the university’s “demands” violated her First Amendment rights.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Keeton has already been rebuffed by the courts. Earlier this year, a U.S. district judge ruled in the university’s favor.
In supporting Augusta State in its actions, the judge wrote, “The record suggests, and the testimony at the hearing bolsters, the Plan was imposed because Plaintiff exhibited an inability to counsel in a professionally ethical manner — that is, an inability to resist imposing her moral viewpoint on counselees – in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics.”
A classmate testified that Keeton said she would be compelled by her beliefs to tell gay or lesbian counseling clients that their behaviors were morally wrong and must be changed.