An Augusta State University counseling student has filed a lawsuit against her school claiming it violated her First Amendment rights when it told her to change her traditionalist Christian views on homosexuality or get out.
The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit Wednesday on behalf of Jennifer Keeton, 24, seeking to stop the school from expelling her from her master’s degree program.
“They made a cascading series of presumptions about the kind of a counselor she would be and have consequently … tried to force her to change her beliefs,” David French, the ADF attorney representing Keeton in the case, told The Daily Caller. “It’s symbolic of an educational system that has lost its way.”
The suit alleges the university retaliated against Keeton for stating her belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not a “state of being,” and that gender is not a social construct subject to individual change. According to the suit, the school wants her to undergo a “thought reform” program intended to change her religious beliefs. She faces expulsion unless she complies, and the suit seeks to block the university from throwing her out for noncompliance.
“Is saying there is such a thing as a male and a female as distinct, and that gender isn’t merely a social construct … such a dangerous position that it has to be banned from a profession?” French asked.
According to court documents, one of Keeton’s professors, Dr. Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley, told her this past May she would have to undergo a remediation program intended to change her views on homosexuality.
The university’s Counseling Education Program handbook proscribes such programs for those whose conduct is “not satisfactory on interpersonal or professional criteria unrelated to academic performance.”
When Keeton received a copy of her program at a May 27 meeting, she saw the document questioned her ability to be a “multiculturally competent counselor” because she dissented from the prevailing view about homosexuality and tried to get others to see things her way.
It also warned her speech had violated various codes of ethics and her support for “conversion therapy for GLBTQ (Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender) populations” departed from accepted norms of “psychological research.”
The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), however, defends the practice Keeton advocated on its website and says many of the studies opponents of “conversion therapy” cite suffer from politically motivated biases and deliberately ignore contrary evidence.
The program also required her to attend at least three pro-gay sensitivity training courses by the end of this fall, read pro-gay peer-reviewed journals on GLBTQ issues, and participate in activities such as Augusta’s gay pride parade. She also was asked to familiarize herself with the Association of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling webpage, which defines homosexual behavior as healthy and suggests gender is a matter of personal choice rather than biology.
The professors also required her to submit a “two-page reflection” each month of how her participation in pro-gay activities “has influenced her beliefs” and how future clients might benefit from her experiences.
“There is no question they are putting her through a kind of thought-reform program when you think about what they are doing,” French said. “It’s a re-education program pure and simple, and it’s … the state trying to invade the human heart and human mind to change her deepest beliefs.”
He continued by noting, “It’s unconscionable.”