The issue raised by Question 12 was called to the public’s attention by a situation involving Julia Ward, a student in the graduate counseling program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU).   In March 2009, Mrs. Ward was expelled from EMU’s counseling program because she was unwilling to violate and change her religious beliefs as a condition to getting her degree.

In 2009, Mrs. Ward enrolled in a counseling practicum course and was assigned a potential client seeking assistance regarding a homosexual relationship. Recognizing the potential values conflict she had with the client, and knowing she could not affirm the client’s homosexual relationship without violating her religious beliefs regarding extra-marital sexual relationships, Ward asked her supervisor how to handle the matter. Consistent with ethical and professional standards regarding referral, Ward was advised to reassign the potential client to a different counselor, which she did. Shortly thereafter, EMU informed Ward that the only way she could stay in the counseling program would be if she agreed to undergo a “remediation” program. Its purpose was to help her “see the error of her ways” and change her “belief system” as it relates to counseling about homosexual relationships. Ward did not agree to these conditions.

ADF attorneys representing Ward filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against EMU officials in April 2009. In July 2010, the court granted summary judgment in favor of EMU on all of Ward’s claims.  ADF attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, and ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco presented oral argument before the court on Oct. 4.  In a strongly worded opinion, the 6th Circuit reversed the decision and remanded the case for trial. However, the Sixth Circuit’s decision does not mean that Mrs. Ward has won or will win.  However, she will get to go to trial now to prove her case.

In 2011 Arizona signed into law a bill that provide various protections for religious students with respect to being forced into counseling relationships that violate their religious or moral convictions.  A similar law has been introduced in Michigan.

The Family Action Council would like to thank the Alliance Defense Fund for much of the information contained in this summary.  The ADF Fact Sheet from which portions of this page were taken can be found in the right sidebar under “Fact Sheet” at this link.