By now many of you have already heard of the recent grant of summary judgment to Eastern Michigan University by a federal judge in the case of Julea Ward and EMU's counseling program. The judge's opinion is here.
The Alliance Defense Fund is also litigating a similar case, recently filed, on behalf of Jennifer Keeton against officials at Augusta State University in Georgia. The complaint is here.
Both documents make for very interesting reading. I'm going to try to boil the matter down for interested readers, but if this kind of thing is your bag, I do encourage you actually to read the documents.
The American Counseling Association has (the irony will not be lost on you) a code of ethics which secular counseling programs have incorporated into their curricular requirements. (I don't know what Christian counseling programs do.) This code of ethics and the counseling course textbooks are chock-full of code language about diversity, tolerance, and not "imposing" one's values, especially in the context of (you will be so surprised) homosexuality, which code language is not hard to interpret: American counselors are supposed to aim for value neutral counseling as an ideal (though some textbooks acknowledge that it is not a perfectly attainable one), to affirm their clients' values and set their own aside in counseling, and to be especially sure not to judge homosexual behavior to be wrong. Got it?
The crucial point in the EMU case is just this: Counselors are not permitted either to refer homosexual clients (consistently) to other counselors or to counsel the client in a way that does not affirm homosexual behavior as normal and legitimate. Various textbooks and the ACA guidelines allow for referrals under some circumstances, and Julea Ward evidently took this to mean she could use the referral option in such cases. But what emerges is that referrals are allowed only as a last resort, after the counselor has tried to be a good moral relativist in the counseling relationship, not as a matter of course when the counselor has reason to believe in advance that he will be unable in good conscience to affirm the client's behavior.
Julea Ward realized that the one thing she certainly would not be permitted to do would be to counsel the client in accordance with what she believed to be the truth concerning the true best interests of the client, the self-destructive nature of the homosexual lifestyle, etc. Her training was sufficiently clear on that point--any such counseling would be deemed "imposing" her values on the client. So she sought to maintain what she thought were the required professional standards by referring the client. Not good enough, said her trainers. They instituted an inquisition, and she was expelled from the program after she made it clear that she would not affirm the normality of homosexual behavior in the course of counseling. One reads with some wryness the judge's comment on this point. Why, she wasn't expelled for referring a client! Goodness, no! She was expelled for making it clear in subsequent conversations that she would not engage in "gay affirming" counseling and for refusing to undergo a "remediation program" to induce her to do so (p. 14 of the opinion). Well, that's all right, then. They were simply applying bona fide educational standards to the situation.
In Miss Keeton's case, the situation is just as clear. Her trainers also referred to the ACA standards (of moral relativism). But Miss Keeton actually agreed to undergo remediation. Her trainers, however, feared that perhaps she did not understand. In meeting after meeting, they insisted that she must understand: She could not merely go through the motions in her remediation program (which consisted in inundating her with material and contacts preaching the normality of homosexuality and included the strong recommendation that she attend a Gay Pride parade). She must show throughout the remediation program that she understood the absolute requirement that she not "impose her values" on her clients. Miss Keeton, a bit more pliant than Miss Ward, said that she did not believe she would impose her values on her clients but that she would not positively affirm the rightness of homosexual behavior. This Thomas More-like response of silence was not enough. Her teachers realized full-well what they meant by "imposing one's values." They realized that Miss Keeton actually believed that some moral statements are objectively true, not having really internalized a thoroughgoing moral relativism. We can't have that, now.
In a revealing e-mail intended as a response to a supposed misunderstanding by Miss Keeton, her professor Dr. Schenck wrote the following (p. 17 of the complaint):
Jennifer, you misinterpreted what I was saying. I do not expect you to change your personal beliefs and values. What is the issue is if you believe your personal beliefs and values should be the same beliefs and values for all people. This is the unethical part--applying your own personal beliefs and values on other people and not truly accepting that others can have different beliefs and values that are equally valid as your own.
Well, yes, that is clarifying, isn't it? And of course answering it is like shooting fish in a barrel. It reminds me a bit of this amusing takedown of Deepak Chopra. The self-refutation argument for moral relativism is almost too easy to make. So, all together now, boys and girls:
"DR. SCHENCK, ISN'T THAT STATEMENT ABOUT WHAT IS UNETHICAL JUST A STATEMENT OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL BELIEFS AND VALUES?"
From the professional perspective, ethical relativism is not only impossible but undesirable in counseling. How would that apply to, say, a client whose values include the idea that he must beat his wife and daughter for their own good? What about a client who just wants to get the rehab officer off his back because he doesn't want to kick his drug habit? Obviously, if counseling is supposed to be one of the "helping" professions, we have to have some idea of what "helping" is. Clients whose goal is to continue behavior that is self-destructive or harmful to other people should not be assisted to reach that goal and are not being genuinely helped by terminal non-judgmentalism. (It is telling that one example Miss Keeton's professors gave her was the supposed professional duty to affirm a woman's decision to have an abortion.) This should be obvious even to secular counseling professionals, but evidently it is not.
Legally, I suppose that the question of religious freedom will turn on the question of whether the "educational" requirements made upon Miss Ward and Miss Keeton were truly discriminatory against their religious beliefs. Considering that Christianity, along with several other religions, is incompatible with moral relativism, one might think the answer would be obvious. Certainly by the standard of "disparate impact" it should be clear that public universities that require their counseling students to be moral relativists are applying a standard that will de facto eliminate the participation of serious, orthodox Christians. And forcing them to counsel consistently as moral relativists is imposing a very strong speech requirement, one that goes far beyond, say, requiring a student to explain a position contrary to his own or to take a different side from his own in a debate. Whether anyone in the legal food-chain will care about these facts, which would seem to make these programs illegal under present anti-discrimination law and possibly First Amendment jurisprudence, remains to be seen.
In related news, Dr. Ken Howell has been reinstated to teach Catholic thought at the University of Illinois. I have read elsewhere that his salary will now be paid by the university rather than by the Newman Center.
[Update] I've decided to say a bit more about the subject of “compelled speech” which comes up in the judge's opinion on Julea Ward. The judge cites the Axson-Flynn precedent to support the conclusion that a college may compel speech in order to further a legitimate academic goal. Let's put that together with the fact that the judge expressly states that what Miss Ward refused to do was to engage in “gay affirming counseling.” So the speech that EMU is supposed to be constitutionally permitted to compel is “gay affirming counseling” by Miss Ward.
The Axson-Flynn case concerned a Mormon young lady who was compelled to say the “f word” and other phrases (such as taking the Lord's name in vain) as part of performing scenes in acting class. The court ruled that she could be compelled to do so in order to complete the acting program, provided that the requirement was motivated by genuine pedagogical concerns rather than by anti-Mormon sentiment. (This approach is similar to that taken in the California case in which students were required to learn about Islam by play-acting being Muslims.) The judge in the Axson-Flynn case (quoting an earlier precedent) cites the following additional situations in which a school might compel speech, even speech in some sense expressing an opinion contrary to the student's own, for educational purposes: A history professor might require students to write a paper defending prohibition. A law school professor might require students to write (mock) opinions showing how particular justices might analyze a question.
What is common to all these situations is that the students in them are being compelled to speak only where others will not or need not believe that they actually believe what they are saying. They are merely stating the case for another point of view, play acting, and the like. Or that, at least, is the claim.
One would hope that the conclusion in the Axson-Flynn case would have been different had a state school compelled the student to take the name of God in vain off-stage as well as on-stage, perhaps on the grounds that this is the normal way that actors behave and hence has become a standard of the acting industry!
In the case of Miss Ward, the compelled speech in question--specifically, the “affirmation” of homosexual behavior--is to take place in a real-life situation where it appears to the client to represent Miss Ward's real beliefs. This is to take the Axson-Flynn precedent far beyond its applicable context. If a state school can compel a student to engage in speech against his religious beliefs in a real-world context where the speech will seem to others in the context truly to express his own beliefs, it is difficult to see how such a school's ability to compel speech can be limited at all. By such logic it would be constitutional for a state school to compel an atheist or a Muslim student, perhaps as an exercise in cross-cultural understanding, to attend a Christian revival meeting, go forward at the altar call, and pray to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Indeed, since Miss Ward's “gay affirming counseling” could come up repeatedly during her counseling practicum, it would seem that such a cultural experience should be able to be constitutionally extended over a period of months to require the atheist or Muslim student to attend church repeatedly after his apparent conversion. The pretense that this is not a matter of violating a student's religious beliefs is egregious, of course, and it is just as egregious in Miss Ward's case.
Of course, in Miss Keeton's case any pretense that this is not a matter of compelling belief or penalizing belief will be even harder to maintain, since Dr. Schenck expressly states in her e-mail that it is Miss Keeton's belief (regarding beliefs and values) that is at issue. Since Christianity is incompatible with the moral relativism Dr. Schenck is requiring, one would hope that the courts would recognize that Miss Keeton has a knock-down case of an attempt to compel her to change her beliefs.