A federal judge in Augusta, Georgia has dismissed the lawsuit filed by Jennifer Keeton against Augusta State University. Keeton, who claims her Christian beliefs prohibit her from dealing with gay patients in a supportive manner, has challenged her dismissal from the school’s graduate counseling program following her refusal to accept remediation. Augusta State officials hold that professional standards and the school’s accreditation require that counselors be trained to deal with patients nonjudgmentally. (In essence, First, do no harm.)
In his decision, Judge J. Randall Hall ruled that the school did not violate Keeton’s religious rights and backed its assertion that it has a legitimate interest in enforceing professional standards in its program.
Inside Higher Ed reports:
Judge Hall’s ruling largely refused to engage in debate about the morality of being gay or of the value of religious freedom. He framed the issue as an academic one.
He said that the issues should be considered this way: “Baldly stated in outline, they amount to no more than this: a student enrolled in a professional graduate program was required to complete a course of remediation after being cited for purported professional deficiencies by educators in her chosen field of study; she refused to do so and was dismissed from the program.”
Given Keeton’s suit, he said it was important to examine the reasons for the university’s requirements. He concluded that these reasons were legitimate and not motivated by religious views.
“The counselor program’s charge is to train and prepare students to become licensed professional counselors, and to this end ASU faculty and officials have incorporated into the program professional codes of conduct applicable to practicing counselors. Indeed, adoption of the professional codes and the concomitant remediation mechanism were measures animated in large part by the desire to obtain and maintain the counselor program’s professional accreditation — an important designation that assures students, employers, and the public that its curriculum meets professional standards. The legitimate sweep of the program’s policies therefore cannot be doubted.”
The judge noted that Keeton was free to believe whatever she wants about gay people, and that the department was focused, legitimately, on how she would treat clients in the future.
“Keeton’s conflation of personal and professional values, or at least her difficulty in discerning the difference, appears to have been rooted in her opinion that the immorality of homosexual relations is a matter of objective and absolute moral truth,” the judge wrote. “The policies which govern the ethical conduct of counselors, however, with their focus on client welfare and self-determination, make clear that the counselor’s professional environs are not intended to be a crucible for counselors to test metaphysical or moral propositions. Plato’s Academy or a seminary the counselor program is not; that Keeton’s opinions were couched in absolute or ontological terms does not give her constitutional license to make it otherwise.”