Alex Blaze

Homophobic counseling student loses case

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 23, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: counseling LGBT clients, Jennifer Keeton, judge, psychology, ruling

Jennifer Keeton, who filed suit a month ago to keep herself from being expelled from a graduate counseling program that required her to have some basic sensitivity towards LGBT people, lost her case:

jennifer-keeton.jpgIn his ruling, Judge Hall tried hard to keep the case from becoming a culture wars flash point. "[T]his is not a case pitting Christianity against homosexuality," he wrote. What the case was about, he wrote, was the right of a public university to enforce reasonable academic standards. He wrote that "matters of educational policy should be left to educators and it is not the proper role of federal judges to second guess an educator's professional judgment."

The ruling noted that the standards for Keeton winning her injunction were quite high, and that the full record of the case has not been reviewed. But the judge framed the case as one of academic rights -- and he did so in a similar way to the ruling last month by another federal judge. In a full ruling in that case, the judge upheld the right of a counseling program at Eastern Michigan University to kick out a master's student who declined to counsel gay clients in an affirming way -- as required by the university program and counseling associations.

The Religious Right seems to be under the impression that all education is supposed to follow in the tradition of the liberal arts in which freedom to believe and defend bizarre ideas is considered a positive for everyone's education. The problem is that the liberal arts are, by definition, not about preparing people for a specific job. And Keeton's field of study was supposed to prepare her to become a counselor, specifically a school counselor, which requires a certain knowledge of psychiatry, sensitivity to those who are different, and a commitment to professional standards that Keeton herself admitted to lacking.

Judge Hall cited several pieces of evidence submitted by the university as showing that Keeton was sanctioned not for her religious views but for the university's belief that she was going to act in ways inconsistent with the professional standards under which it trains students. Faculty members testified that they did not care about Keeton's personal religious beliefs or require that she change them to continue in the program -- only that she agree to treat people within the nondiscriminatory standards of the profession.

The university also submitted affidavits from fellow students in which they said that Keeton told them she planned as a counselor to tell any gay clients that their conduct was "morally wrong" and to try to get them to "change" themselves, and that she would seek to work in schools without any gay people or that she would refer gay people to other counselors. (Counseling standards specifically state that it's not permitted to refer clients because of sexual orientation or other factors, and that counselors are required to be able to work with all groups.)

In his decision, Judge Hall wrote that these facts made the issue not one of religious belief, but of specific curriculum-based decisions appropriately made by a faculty. "[T]he record suggests, and the testimony at the hearing bolsters, that 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, which is part of the ASU counseling program's curriculum."

It'd be like an Amish electrical engineering student arguing that it's part of her religious freedom to not learn the technological parts of the degree. Keeton fully intended not to do 100% of her job and to violate the professional guidelines of her field, so it makes sense for the school to not graduate her.

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Another win for educational sanity

She doesn't really want to be a counselor- I think she wants to be a missionary...

Exactly! ... If she wishes to pursue her religious counseling, then there are countless "Christian counseling" programs available from community colleges, some faith-affiliated and some not. Such programs are not publicly accredited --- but if she believes what she says, then why should she care?

I presume this student is a fundamentalist Christian. If she feels a duty to tell gay clients they are immoral, does she feel an equal duty to tell her non-Christian clients that they are immoral until they convert to fundamentalist Christianity?

Freedom does not excuse ignorance, nor does religion replace competence.

Tony Soprano | August 24, 2010 7:26 AM

" Counseling standards specifically state that it's not permitted to refer clients because of sexual orientation or other factors ..."

Er ... WRONG! In fact, it is just the opposite.

If a counselor has a 'conflict' (of interest), he/she is ethically required to refer a client to another counselor. 'Conflicts' include, but are NOT limited to, "[close personal] friends or acquaintances seeking counseling, or religious, social, political, or moral beliefs or differences which may affect the quality of care".

Anyway, a PUBLIC University receiving PUBLIC funds for PUBLIC curriculum requires representing all the people, or, - in this case Keeton can't - then she shouldn't represent any ...

Sara Turansky | August 24, 2010 9:06 AM

I am so happy about this ruling.

Augusta, GA had our first Pride this year and with this ruling, it is obvious that things are changing here in the Deep South.

As a long-time therapy patient, I know I wouldn't want to see a therapist who didn't accept me for who I am, or worse, would try to get me to change.



Yeah, God forbid a counselor act professionally. What's the world coming to?

Religion is personal and should never be considered "professional." It's very good news that people are beginning to understand that reality.

As a teen I went to a Therapist who picked up I was Gay without me telling him. Unfortunately he then kind of tried to pick me up. That was my only session with him & I refused to go back. Gay or Straight having a Professional who knows what a boundary is matters greatly.

Score another major decision for our side kids!

Read about my life as a Gay Hollywood 'Extra'...just google: John Starr Blog

Andrea Mooney | August 24, 2010 11:53 AM

I am relieved that her academic program caught this potential ethical problem BEFORE she got a license and started inserting her beliefs into her practice...

GraciesDaddy GraciesDaddy | August 24, 2010 12:52 PM

Now, lemme get this [ahem!] straight:

Ms. Keeton promised to "counsel" gay students to change who they are...

...Yet she is unwilling to accept the parameters well-established in the counseling profession; parameters, I'm willing to venture, that have been in place since before she was BORN!

Pot... I'd like to introduce you to Kettle.

But, but, but, she's the one with traditional beliefs! Even if they're counter to everything the profession is about!

Absolutely, Alex! ... She has exactly the same religious and academic freedom rights as a molecular biology professor who insists on teaching that the evolutionary record does not really exist, and the fact that humans and chimpanzees differ by only 1.3% of their genes is pure coincidence!

Studying anything at University does not automatically result in a pass.

The University was right to enforce what it considered appropriate standards for its course. It is not the position of there student to dictate what tehy will learn in order to qualify but for the University to dictate what they must learn and standards to which they must adhere in order to be successful.

My favorite part is where she says she wants to work at a school with no gay people. Will she pass out surveys before accepting the job? Will she quit her job if a gay student transfers in?