Anti-gay Ga. counseling student’s lawsuit dismissed

Keeton, who describes herself as a Christian and was attending ASU to become a school counselor for grades K-12, sued the university after professors recommended she undertake a remediation plan as a way to teach her more about LGBT issues. The plan included attending workshops on LGBT issues as well as attending Augusta Pride.

Keeton is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to defending “traditional family values.” In her lawsuit, Keeton claimed her First Amendment rights were violated by the university because it stated her biblical opposition to homosexuality — that she would state in class and to other students — went against the professional code for being an ethical counselor.

In his June 22 ruling, Hall wrote:

One conspicuous and abiding theme of the American story is that individuals like Jennifer Keeton are free to choose their own spiritual path, and need brook no government trespass thereon. The Constitution guarantees that the heart may pulse to meters of its own design, deaf to public cadence. But when affairs of the conscience ripen into action – either speech or conduct – government is granted leave to regulate in behalf of certain public interests, including education and professional fitness.

Boundaries drawn through decades of case law establish the whither and when of such regulation, and, after carefully considering the factual content of Keeton’s allegations, the Court concludes that Defendants acted within those bounds – there is no room to reasonably infer otherwise.

The policies incorporated into the Counselor Program set the standards of conduct which govern the profession that Keeton chose to enter; Keeton was fairly apprised of what those policies demanded and she has failed to show that they had an undue chilling effect on student speech. The remediation plan imposed on Keeton pursuant to those policies placed limits on her speech and burdened her religious beliefs, but, as the allegations show, the plan was motivated by a legitimate pedagogical interest in cultivating a professional demeanor and concern that she might prove unreceptive to certain issues and openly judge her clients.

Furthermore, these concerns and the policies from which they were derived are
applicable to all students in the Counselor Program. The allegations show, in sum, that while Keeton was motivated by her particular religious beliefs, Defendants were not.

U.S. District Judge Randall Hall ruled Aug. 20, 2010, that Keeton did not deserve a preliminary injunction against Augusta State University for requiring her to follow a “remediation plan” to help her learn to separate her religious belief that homosexuality is immoral from her duty as a counselor not to impart her personal feelings to patients.

Hall further ruled the case should not be viewed as “pitting Christianity against homosexuality.”

Keeton wrote in a school assignment that “it would be hard [for her] to work with [the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/ questioning] population,” according to court documents.

A faculty member reported that Keeton said she would counsel a patient that homosexuality is immoral, and an affidavit from a fellow student said Keeton expressed that she would try to “change” homosexual clients or refer them to conversion therapy to try to make them heterosexual.

According to Keeton’s lawsuit, she was given a “remediation plan” that focused on her written composition skills and to “address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy,” related to LGBT issues.

This portion required her to attend at least three workshops “which emphasize improving cross-cultural communication, developing multicultural competence, or diversity sensitivity training toward working with GLBTQ populations”; “continue to develop her knowledge base on GLBTQ issues by outside reading on the topic” by reading at least 10 articles in peer-reviewed journals related to effective counseling for LGBT people; and to “work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations,” and to submit written “reflections” on this work, according to court documents.

The university declined to speak publicly about the litigation, but issued a statement on its Facebook page on July 28, 2010:

“There has been much media attention focused on an allegation of discrimination by a student in our counseling program. Augusta State University, a unit of the University System of Georgia, does not discriminate against any individuals on the basis of their personal, social, political, or religious beliefs or views. No student is asked to change their religious beliefs or views in order to participate in any program,” the statement says.

“The counseling profession requires its practitioners to recognize that people set and adhere to their own moral compass. The professional counselor’s job is to help clients clarify their current feelings and behaviors and to help them reach the goals that they have determined for themselves, not to dictate what those goals should be, what morals they should possess, or what values they should adopt,” ASU further stated