When Julea Ward walked into the room of professors from the counseling department, she hoped to find more tolerance than she’d received from her counseling supervisor at Eastern Michigan University. She was wrong.
Her counseling supervisor had already conducted an informal review of Julea, and now she had to endure another interrogation of her Christian faith from a review board of other faculty. Her offense? She referred a potential client who wanted advice on his same-sex relationship to another fellow counselor. Although she was willing to work with all clients, she could not affirm a relationship that was contrary to her faith.
Unanimously, the school review board decided to expel her from the counseling program. Julea appealed, but her dismissal was upheld. Julea then contacted Alliance Defending Freedom, who helped her take legal action against the school.
This time, the court ruled in Julea’s favor, stating “Ward was willing to work with all clients and to respect the school’s affirmation directives in doing so. That is why she asked to refer gay and lesbian clients (and some heterosexual clients) if the conversation required her to affirm their sexual practices. What more could the [non-discrimination] rule require? Surely, for example, the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct if the conversation takes a turn in that direction and does not require an atheist counselor to tell a person of faith that there is a God if the client is wrestling with faith-based issues. Tolerance is a two-way street.”
Eastern Michigan University paid a settlement to Julea and removed the expulsion from her record.
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Ward v. Polite
What's at stake
- The freedom of students to obtain a college degree without having to abandon their religious beliefs
- The freedom of counselors to respectfully refer clients when they have a values-based conflict with the clients’ counseling goals
Julea Ward was a student in Eastern Michigan University’s graduate counseling program. Her sincere religious convictions prevent her from providing counseling regarding sexual relationships that violate biblical teachings. When the University assigned her a client who needed counseling on such a relationship, she recognized the likely values conflict and asked her supervising professor what to do. Consistent with the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) code of ethics provisions regarding referrals, and with what Julea had been taught in class, the professor told her to have the client reassigned. After the client was reassigned, the university turned the tables on Julea, charging her with violating two provisions of the ACA Code – a provision against imposing values on clients and a provision against discrimination – and took her through a disciplinary process in which University professors targeted and denigrated her religious beliefs. Shortly thereafter, the University expelled Julea from the program. At the time of her expulsion, she was just four classes shy of completing the program and carried a 3.91 GPA.
Unfortunately, the lower court upheld the University’s stunning treatment of Julea and dismissed her lawsuit. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, reinstated Julea’s lawsuit, and punctuated its ruling by admonishing the University that “tolerance is a two-way street.”
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Julea in the defense of her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.