The lawsuit is filed in United States District Court Southern Division in Augusta.
ADF claims in the suit that Keeton’s 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.
“Miss Keeton stated to the faculty members that she believes that she will be able to avoid imposing her beliefs on a client, while also maintaining her convictions that certain behaviors are improper.
“However, Miss Keeton did state that she would not in a counseling session agree with the propriety of homosexual relations, nor affirm the propriety of a client pursuing a life of, and a self-definition based on, homosexual relations,” the suit states.
The judge in the case issued an order July 29 prohibiting attorneys from discussing the case with the media. However, before that ruling, ADF attorney David French discussed the case on numerous socially conservative television and radio shows.
“A public university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that’s exactly what’s happening here,” French said in a statement. “Abandoning one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree. This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer’s only ‘crime’ was to have the beliefs that she does.”
The university declined to speak publicly about the pending litigation, but issued a statement on its Facebook page on July 28.
“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.
The ADF represented a student in a similar federal lawsuit at Eastern Michigan University. The school expelled graduate student Julea Ward, also in the counseling program, for her refusal to counsel people who are gay because she considered homosexuality a sin according to her Christian beliefs. The judge ruled against the student and ADF on July 26. ADF has vowed to appeal the decision.
The ADF is also currently appealing a March ruling against a counselor, Marcia Walden, who declined to counsel a person employed with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention about her same-sex relationship.
Walden referred the client to a colleague because she said counseling someone who is gay went against her religious beliefs. Walden was a counselor with Computer Sciences Corporation. This suit was filed in U.S. District Court of Northern Georgia.
Top photo: Augusta State University graduate counseling student Jennifer Keeton alleges the school violated her First Amendment rights due to her Christian belief that being gay or transgender is immoral. (Photo courtesy Alliance Defense Fund)