New decisions in professional standards v. religious liberty cases

by on August 24, 2010  •  In Religion

For the second month in a row, a federal judge has backed the right of a public university to enforce standards of its counseling graduate programs — even when religious students object to standards requiring them to treat gay people on an equal basis. And in Britain, the Charity Commission denied an exemption from anti-discrimination laws to a Catholic adoption advisory service that refuses to help gay couples. 

The ruling in the most recent counseling student case, Keeton v Anderson-Wiley, came when U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall refused to grant an injunction that would block Augusta (GA) State University from expelling Jennifer Keeton from a master's program over her refusal to comply with a remedial program to which she was assigned because she said she would counsel gay people to undergo conversion therapy. Keeton has maintained that being forced to comply with the remedial program would effectively force her to change her Christian beliefs — something that she and her legal backers maintain a public university has no right to do.

Legally, Judge Hall wrote,  "this is not a case pitting Christianity against homosexuality."  What the case was about, he said, 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."

Last month, in Ward v Wilbanks, U.S. District Judge George Steeh upheld the right of a counseling program at Eastern Michigan University to expel a master's student who declined to counsel gay clients in an affirming way, as required by the university program and counseling associations. The court found that the university was enforcing a legitimate curricular requirement — namely that counseling students learn to work with all kinds of clients in ways that did not judge their values or orientations.

Meanwhile in the U.K., the Charity Commission ordered Catholic Care, a charity in Leeds, to either cease its work to place children with adoptive parents or to abide by equality laws — meaning it would need to consider gay couples as prospective parents.

In its opinion in In re Catholic Care, the Commission stated as its reasons:

  • The interests of children are paramount – the courts have found that it is in the interests of children waiting to be adopted that the pool from which prospective parents are drawn is as wide as possible.
  • Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is a serious matter because it departs from the principle of treating people equally.
  • Local authority evidence suggests that even if the charity were to close its adoption service, children who would have been placed through the charity are likely to be placed through other channels.
  • Local authority evidence suggests that they consider gay and lesbian people as suitable prospective parents for hard to place children and that such adoptions have been successful.
  • The High Court judgment had found that respect for religious views could not be a justification for discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in this case, because of the essentially public nature of adoption services.


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