If you asked then-high-school-teacher Julea Ward what prompted her to pursue a third master’s degree, she would say it was the conversations with her students.
She recalls how much she benefited from her mother’s advice when she was growing up, and she treasured being able to talk with her students and offer them some advice to help navigate their confusing teenage years.
Because of those experiences, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in counseling at Eastern Michigan University (EMU).
While she was at EMU, however, she found herself in an unexpected legal battle when the college expelled her from the counseling program because of her religious beliefs regarding sexual morality.
The battle began when she entered the practicum portion of her master’s degree program, where she would counsel actual clients under the direction of a faculty advisor.
As Julea was looking over the file of one of her upcoming clients, she noticed he was seeking counsel regarding a homosexual relationship. As a Christian, Julea believes what the Bible says about homosexual behavior and could not counsel someone in a manner that violated her beliefs. Julea immediately contacted her adviser to ask about this value-based conflict and whether she should refer the client to someone else. Her adviser told her to refer the client– a practice not uncommon in the counseling field.
Shortly after this, her adviser informed her that an informal review (the first step in a progressive disciplinary process) would take place, based on Julea’s refusal to affirm homosexual behavior. She was then given three options: 1) take part in a program designed to change her beliefs, 2) withdraw from the counseling program, or 3) go through a formal review process.
She chose to go through the formal review process, but found the review panel to be just as hostile to her beliefs. Julea explained to the panel that she did not refer the client because he was homosexual, but because she could not in good conscience affirm homosexual behavior. The college refused to accept her explanation and removed her from the program, so Julea reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom for help.
When Julea filed suit, she found that she did not have a lot of support outside of her church, friends, and family.
“I didn’t have people lined up to say ‘Good for you!’ or to give me any pats on the back,” she said.
So, with the threat of losing her degree and with so much opposition, one might ask what prompted her to take a stand against her school?
One of the Scripture verses that stuck with Julia during this time was Matthew 10:33: “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
“It’s not about my degree or my livelihood,” she said. “The question is: Is God pleased with me?”
The good news is that God was faithful to her—Julea won her case. The Sixth Circuit stated, “A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree.”
We continue to give thanks to God for all the ways He provides, but especially for university students like Julea who are willing to make personal sacrifices in order to serve God and make a way for others to live out their faith on university campuses. Learn more about other university students like Julea who stood up for their beliefs by visiting ADFlegal.org/University.
Christians in college are facing environments increasingly hostile toward their beliefs, but they still have the right to live and act according to their beliefs.
If you, or a student in your family, ever find yourself facing a situation like Julea’s, know that you are not alone. Contact Alliance Defending Freedom to see if we can help!