Grad student who was expelled for refusing to counsel gay client settles for $75,000

A nationally-publicized lawsuit in Michigan pitting religious freedom against gay rights has ended in a settlement.

The plaintiff, Julea Ward, a former student at Eastern Michigan University, was expelled from the school’s master’s degree counseling program after she declined to provide counseling to a gay person, reports the Detroit Free Press. Ward based her decision to refer the potential client on her religious beliefs.

EMU contended that Ward was dismissed because she failed to adhere to the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics.

Under the terms of the settlement, Ward will receive $75,000. EMU, the defendant, won’t have to alter its curriculum.

Legal proceedings began in 2009 when the Alliance Defense Fund (now called Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a lawsuit on Ward’s behalf. At the time, she was training to become a K-12 school counselor in Eastern Michigan’s graduate counseling program.

The Alliance Defense Fund had sought a court order requiring EMU to change its curriculum to permit referrals in cases when the religious beliefs of counseling students could cause a professionalism conflict. Such cases could occur when sexual relationships, abortion, premarital sex and other contentious moral issues arise.

The policy at Eastern Michigan — which remains unchanged under the terms of the settlement — obligates counseling students to the code of ethics of the American Counseling Association and forbids discrimination.

“EMU has made the decision that is in the best interest of its students and the taxpayers of the state of Michigan to resolve the litigation rather than continue to spend money on a costly trial,” said EMU’s vice president for communications Walter Kraft, the Free Press notes.

“The faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University,” Kraft added.

Michigan Universities Self-Insurance Corporation, the university’ insurance company, will bear the cost of the settlement.

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