11th Circuit Rules Against Christian Student in Religious Discrimination Case

Last Friday, the 11th Circuit dismissed a lawsuit a graduate student had brought against Augusta State University in Georgia, arguing her expulsion from the university’s school-counseling program violated her constitutional rights. The student, a Christian, had expressed skeptical views about homosexual identity and conduct, and the university required her to participate in a “remediation plan” to make sure that her views did not affect the counseling she would provide clients in the program’s clinical practicum, particularly clients from the “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.” When she refused to do so, the university expelled her. The 11th Circuit ruled that her expulsion violated neither her free speech nor free exercise rights. Briefly, with respect to the former, the court noted that the student would be advising clients in a university-sponsored clinic; the university thus could require her to conduct herself in accordance with the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which forbids counselors from imposing moral views on clients. The university was not disciplining the student for her religious views, in other words, but for failing to agree to put them aside in accordance with her professional responsibilities. With respect to the student’s free exercise claims, the court held that school’s requirement that students abide by the ACA code, notwithstanding their own religious convictions, was neutral and generally applicable, and rationally related to the university’s legitimate interest in maintaining its accreditation. The case is Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley (Dec. 16, 2011).

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