Augusta State University counseling student Jennifer Keeton was told that her Christian beliefs were unethical and incompatible with the prevailing views in her college counseling program. You see, Jen didn’t hide who she was while in class. Once her professors learned of her biblical beliefs, specifically her views on homosexual conduct, from both classroom discussions and private conversations with other students, school officials stepped in. The University told her to stop sharing her beliefs with others and then even went so far as to say that if she didn’t change her beliefs, she wouldn’t graduate from the counseling program.
The university ordered Jennifer to undergo a re-education program, where she would attend diversity and sensitivity training, do additional remedial reading and write additional papers to describe the impact of the assignments on her thinking. The plan also ordered her to “work to increase exposure and interactions with gay populations. One such activity could be attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.” The university expressed suspicion over “Jen’s ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations” because of her Christian beliefs. It was clear that if she did not change her beliefs, or if she did not agree to the re-education program, she would be expelled. Simply put, the university was imposing thought reform.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit to protect Jennifer Keeton’s free speech, religious freedom, and rights of conscience. No public university should require students to abandon their most basic beliefs. Unfortunately, the court did not see it the same way. Ultimately Jennifer lost her legal battle and was kicked out of the Augusta State Counseling program for her religious convictions.
To make sure future students don’t find themselves facing this same fate, Alliance Defending Freedom is working closely with several state Family Policy Councils to get legislation passed specifically prohibiting this type of blatant discrimination.
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Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley
What's at stake
- Whether a public university may force a Christian student to choose between her faith and a degree.
- Whether a public university may expel a student for holding mainstream Christian beliefs.
- Whether a public university may severely punish a Christian student merely for disagreeing with the ideological views the school has decided are “correct.”
- Whether a public university may control what a student thinks and says—even outside of class.
When Jennifer Keeton mentioned her Christian beliefs in class discussions and in private conversations with classmates, she had no idea the price she would ultimately pay.
In the fall of 2009, Jennifer began her studies at Augusta State University (ASU), seeking to earn a masters degree in school counseling and then become a school guidance counselor. When class discussions and assignments addressed issues of gender and sexuality, she expressed her beliefs on the subject, beliefs that were rooted in her Christian faith. She did the same in private conversations with her friends and colleagues outside of class. That is, she explained that she believed that people are born either male or female and that they retain this gender throughout their lives, regardless of their desires or decisions later on. She also explained how she believed that sexual behavior arises from a person’s choices, for which he is accountable, and so homosexual conduct is a lifestyle choice, not a state of being.
In May 2010, ASU officials informed Jennifer that she would have to complete a “remediation plan” because she had expressed her Christian views on gender and sexuality and tried to persuade others of them. As part of this remediation plan, she would have to attend “diversity sensitivity training,” complete additional reading assignments, and “work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations” by, for example, “attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.” Then she had to write reflection papers, explaining how these activities had “influenced her beliefs” so the faculty could determine “the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program.”
In multiple meetings over the next few weeks, ASU faculty denigrated Jennifer’s Biblical beliefs and demanded that she change those beliefs or leave the program. At one point, one professor told her, “You couldn’t be a teacher, let alone a counselor, with those views.” Later, this professor explained that Jennifer should not expect to complete the remediation plan without changing her beliefs. At a minimum, these professors insisted that Jennifer stop believing that the Bible’s teachings apply to all people and that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. And they insisted that she promise she would affirm homosexual conduct if any future clients ever asked her about the topic. When Jennifer would not change her beliefs or promise to affirm conduct that Scripture says is immoral, ASU expelled her from the counseling program in December 2010.
Shortly after ASU unveiled the remediation plan, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on her behalf. Sadly, both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld ASU’s actions in decisions that greatly undermined the free speech and religious freedom rights of university students.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Jennifer Keeton and defended her right to live according to her religious beliefs while completing her masters degree.