The Courage of Her Convictions
http://www.citizenlink.com/2012/04/02/t ... te=FOCUSFB
by Matt Kaufman
Julea Ward had to go to court to fight for the rights of Christians in the counseling profession. And she’s just won a major battle.
Julea Ward’s going to get her day in court after all.
A veteran English teacher who was studying to become a high school guidance counselor, Ward was expelled from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in 2009 — a victim of the school’s insistence that she effectively adopt its position on counseling for sexual relationships, in violation of her Christian faith.
With help from attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Ward challenged her dismissal in court. She hit a road block in July 2010, when a federal judge, George Steeh, dismissed her case.
But on Jan. 27, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Steeh’s decision and held that Ward’s case deserved to go to trial. In the process, they issued a strongly-worded opinion slicing apart the university’s defense, and suggesting that if anyone was guilty of impermissible discrimination, it was not Ward, but EMU. “Tolerance is a two-way street,” the court declared.
“The Sixth Circuit ruling puts momentum on our side,” said Ward’s attorney, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco — and it sets up a case with far-ranging ramifications.
“The bottom line is whether Christians can maintain their Christian convictions and still be a part of the helping professions,” Tedesco told Citizen. “They were telling her ‘You either alter or violate your beliefs or we kick you out of the program.’ ”
‘This Is Not Going to Work’
Ward — whose story was previously told in Citizen (“Christians Need Not Apply,” August/September 2009) — didn’t set out to champion a cause when she decided to become a counselor. She just wanted to help students like the ones she saw every day.
Although she isn’t granting interviews at this stage of her case, she explained her motives in the November 2009 issue of ADF’s magazine Truth & Triumph. (All quotes from her come from that source.)
“I wanted to help kids like I was helped,” Ward said. “After class, I sometimes noticed that maybe a student seemed to have a sad demeanor, so I talked to them, and we discussed their issues. And I found that I enjoyed that — more, actually, than the academic side. So I thought, ‘Why not do this full-time?’ ”
At age 39, entering her final semester at EMU with a 3.91 grade-point average, she was close to realizing her goal. But one day, during the practicum phase of her work, she found that she was scheduled to counsel a new client suffering from depression who was involved in homosexual relationships. And she realized that could be a problem.
Ward had previously been told that counseling students were expected to display only one attitude on this issue: They must “affirm” homosexuality in their clients. And she couldn’t do that. In fact, as she’d made clear in class discussions, she couldn’t affirm any extramarital sexual relationship, due to her Christian convictions.
She’d encountered professors who stated that EMU should weed out students who didn’t embrace the school’s position. One professor had mocked her beliefs in class; another had called her a “homophobe.”
So on this day, Ward asked her supervisor, Dr. Yvonne Callaway, what to do. Should she begin seeing the client, building a relationship and a rapport with him, only to risk it unraveling if the topic turned to his sexual relationship? Or would it be better for the client if she referred him to another counselor before they started? Callaway said he should be reassigned, and Ward never met him.
A week later, though, Ward said that Callaway told her, “This is not going to work!” Ward later met with Callaway and graduate adviser Dr. Suzanne Dugger, both of whom told her she’d violated the school’s ethics code — by doing exactly what Callaway had told her to do: Refer the client.
She was given three choices: She could enter a “remediation” program to show her the error of her ways, voluntarily leave the counseling program, or get a formal hearing with more professors and a dean.
Ward chose the third option. But it was clear from the start of the formal hearing that she never stood a chance.
She was pelted with hostile questions, all documented in the official transcript of the meeting — including repeated invitations to theological debate, such as whether she thought “your brand of Christianity” was “superior” to someone else’s. One professor described her position as “Love the saint, condemn the sinner, or condemn the sin.”
So though Ward defended herself well, she wasn’t surprised when the letter came a few days later: She’d been thrown out of the program.
‘No Such Thing as Value-Free Counseling’
The treatment Ward received raised big issues both in the law and in the counseling field. For one, ADF’s Tedesco said, the religious line of questioning is out of bounds for government officials.
“It’s highly illegal for them to interrogate you about whether you think you’re superior to someone else based on your religious belief,” he said. “They were saying, ‘If you adopt this view, you can stay in the program,’ but the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause says government can’t practice favoritism of one religious view over another.’ ”
For another, telling Ward that she wasn’t allowed to refer clients over values conflicts flies in the face of a well-recognized practice in the counseling profession — a practice that’s found in the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) code of ethics.
“Every provision of the ACA rules applies to all students, and the ACA code specifically allows for referrals,” Tedesco pointed out. “It’s there precisely for cases like Julea’s. It’s a valid, professional approach.”
Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), seconded that opinion.
“For me it’s stunning that any professor, understanding the code of ethics, would actually make those statements to a student,” Clinton told Citizen. “It’s appalling.”
Clinton’s group represents between 40,000 and 50,000 counselors at any given time — from professional therapists to lay counselors — and he’s keenly aware of the importance of this case to many of AACC’s members.
“There’s no such thing as value-free counseling,” he said.
Researchers echo that point. A study by Michele P. Ford of Vanderbilt University and Susan S. Hendrick of Texas Tech University found 40 percent of therapists had referred clients specifically because they had a conflict with the clients over sexual values.
“This research supports previous conclusions … that the practice of therapy is not value free, particularly where sexual values are concerned,” Ford and Hendrick wrote in the American Psychological Association’s journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (2003, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 80-97).
“It’s not only Christian counselors,” Clinton said. “What if you’re a gay therapist and you’ve got a religious patient who doesn’t believe in homosexuality. Are they going to say, ‘You can’t refer that patient?’ ”
‘Tolerance Is a Two-Way Street’
It’s hard to deny such common-sense points, but common sense isn’t always abundant in the court system. Fortunately, there was plenty of it at the 6th Circuit.
“What exactly did Ward do wrong in making the referral request?” Judge Jeffrey Sutton said, writing for the court in Ward v. Polite et al. “If one thing is clear after three years of classes, it is that Ward is acutely aware of her own values. The point of the referral request was to avoid imposing her values on gay and lesbian clients.”
Sutton was similarly cutting toward the claim that Ward had violated rules against discrimination.
“Here, too, what did Ward do wrong? Ward was willing to work with all clients and to respect the school’s affirmation directives in doing so. That is why she asked to refer gay and lesbian clients (and some heterosexual clients) if the conversation required her to affirm their sexual practices. What more could the rule require?”
Then Sutton got specific.
“Surely, for example, the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion (1) does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct if the conversation takes a turn in that direction, and (2) does not require an atheist counselor to tell a person of faith that there is a God if the client is wrestling with faith-based issues.”
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” he wrote. “Otherwise, the rule mandates orthodoxy, not anti-discrimination.”
“That’s my favorite quote from the ruling,” ADF’s Tedesco said. “Public universities often preach tolerance, but we often find that they don’t extend it to those they disagree with.
And the bad news for EMU kept coming. They claimed to have a blanket rule against referrals by practicum students. “But a reasonable jury could find that this was an after-the-fact invention,” Sutton wrote.
“The university defendants … cannot point to any written policy that barred Ward from requesting this referral,” he pointed out. “Not the code of ethics, not the school’s anti-discrimination policy, not even the course description of the practicum — none of the natural havens for such a written policy contains one.”
Moreover, it turned out that the school already had allowed referrals in some cases. And considering that Ward’s hearing featured extensive questioning of her faith and values, that looked suspicious to the court.
“Why treat Ward differently?” Sutton asked. “That her conflict arose from religious convictions is not a good answer; that her conflict arose from religious convictions for which the department at times showed little tolerance is a worse answer.”
“A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief system based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree,” Sutton wrote. Elsewhere, he added: “Instead of insisting on changing her clients, Ward asked only that the university not change her.”
‘OK, Now It’s Your Turn, Julea’
As strong as the 6th Circuit’s ruling was, it’s just one step in a case: It means not that Ward has won or will win, but only that she’ll get to make her case in a trial. It will be held under the same judge who previously dismissed her case, George Steeh, but it likely will be decided by a jury.
With the outcome up in the air, some legislators have decided that the issues at stake call for a legislative solution.
In April 2011, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill providing various protections for religious students, including a provision guaranteeing that they would not be forced to enter counseling relationships that force them to violate their convictions.
And in Ward’s state, Michigan, a similar measure bearing her name — the Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act — has been introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan duo: Tupac Hunter, the Senate Democratic floor leader, and Mark Jansen, a Republican. Action on that bill is still pending at press time.
What’s next for Ward? What’s she doing while waiting for the case to be resolved?
Now in her early 40s, she’s continuing to work toward her goal of becoming a counselor — notwithstanding that her expulsion from EMU has cost her plenty of time and money.
“Almost every university she went to told her, ‘We’re not going to accept more than a fraction of your credits,’ ” Tedesco said. “So EMU set her back years.”
But Ward, who counted the cost of her choices from the start, has always known what she’s doing.
“I’ve read about people who were persecuted, people who have been killed for standing up for the Lord,” she said. “So I guess when I got that [expulsion] letter, I said, ‘OK, now it’s your turn, Julea. You’re here.’ …. I’m not being maimed, I’m not being tortured, I’m just being asked to take a stand on what the Bible says. And certainly I can do that.
“Some people have said, ‘Why didn’t you just go ahead and finish the program, and then do what you want to do afterward?’ I can’t do that,” she said.
“When God gives you the opportunity, you have to take it. If He permits an opportunity for us to stand up for Him and we don’t take advantage of that, then what does that say about my gratitude about all the other blessings He’s given me throughout my life?”
Though she’s been through many battles and will be through more in the future, Ward has the perspective it takes to keep on going.
“Here’s the thing. I’m at peace. And I’m at peace because I know that I’ve done what the Lord is pleased with.
“You know, sometimes we don’t know the will of God. In this situation, I knew what the will of God was … and for me to stand up for His Word and not to compromise. Had I compromised — had I put my relationship with Christ on a shelf somewhere — I really couldn’t live with myself.”
Matt Kaufman is a contributing editor to Citizen.
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