Looking back at the situation now, you might conclude that graduate student Julea Ward’s first mistake was asking her professors what she should do.
Her second mistake was doing it.
A nearly straight-A student with two master’s degrees already to her credit, Julea was just a few credits shy of her master’s in counseling at Eastern Michigan University. She’d come back for this advanced degree after teaching for several years at a high school near her home in Belleville, just outside Detroit.
Working with teenagers, she’d developed a deeper appreciation for how much her mother’s wise counsel had helped her navigate the maze of adolescence.
"I wanted to help kids like I was helped," Julea says. "After class, I sometimes noticed that maybe a student seemed to have a sad demeanor, so I talked to them, and we discussed their issues. And I found that I enjoyed that – more, actually, than the academic side. So I thought, ‘Why not do this full time?’"
At EMU, she quickly established herself as an excellent student, building a 3.91 GPA and taking a thoughtful part in classroom discussions. Professors soon learned that Julea, while always respectful, was not always compliant.
"There were some things that I did not necessarily agree with," she remembers, "and I would voice my opinion in class, or give my perspective." She was particularly troubled by some professors’ stated determination to weed from the program students who wouldn’t embrace EMU’s position of affirming clients in homosexual relationships.
As a Christian, Julea takes her views on homosexual behavior from the Bible, and couldn’t encourage a client to go against the teachings of Scripture. When one of her teachers learned that, she openly mocked Julea’s beliefs. Another professor called her a "homophobe."
"Most students would buckle under the pressure she was exposed to."
Julea’s husband, Darryl, was intrigued by her accounts of these classroom discussions. "Sometimes the other students would say, ‘I felt like you were right, but I didn’t want to say anything.’ Like they were protecting themselves, and protecting their grades."
It occurred to Julea that maybe she should protect herself, too. She contacted Alliance Defense Fund attorneys to ask if her beliefs might put her in academic jeopardy.
"While my position may not have been agreeable to some, I did not want to risk suffering any kinds of consequences," she says. "Unfortunately, in the end, I did."
Despite her obvious philosophical conflict with several professors, ADF attorneys were inclined to think Julea would successfully navigate the program. After all, she had an outstanding academic record and – philosophical differences aside – seemed to enjoy a good rapport with most of the faculty.
Trouble came, though, with the start of Julea’s practicum – one of the last courses she needed for her degree.
"Practicum is your introduction to actually counseling clients," she explains. "And you’re in a fishbowl, so to speak, because you have your practicum advisor, who’s actually observing you use the techniques that you’ve learned in these other classes."
Julea’s adviser was a teacher who’d given her straight A’s in several classes, and one with whom she’d always been on good terms. They met weekly to evaluate Julea’s progress.
During one meeting, Julea asked if she should disclose her Christian faith on the "informed consent" paper that clients read before working with a particular counselor. The adviser said no – clients might, in her words, "feel that they’re going to be judged more."
That discussion soon led into "a conversation about homosexuality, and whether or not that was something that should be accepted," Julea remembers. "And I explained that I was a Christian, and that I could not [endorse] homosexual behavior. That had nothing to do with the person, because I can respect every person, but in terms of affirming that behavior, I would not be able to do that."
The counseling profession calls that a "value-based conflict": Julea’s personal convictions contradict the potential counseling expectations of some clients. Such conflicts are common in counseling, and most clinics and academic institutions (including Eastern Michigan) make allowances for them – on paper.
A few days later, Julea came into the clinic early for an appointment with a potential client. Looking through his file, she learned he was seeking counsel about a homosexual relationship. She also saw that a previous counselor had affirmed his homosexual behavior – something Julea was unwilling to do.
Before meeting with the client, she put in a call to her adviser.
"What should I do?" she asked. "Should I meet with this client, and refer him if it becomes necessary … if he’s looking for affirmation for this homosexual relationship that he’s involved in? Or, should I not meet with him, so that rapport is not established, and simply have him assigned to another counselor?"
The adviser told her "in no uncertain terms" that she should assign the client to another counselor. Shortly afterward, she informed Julea that an "informal review" would be scheduled to evaluate Julea’s continuing participation in the program, since "out of all the years she’d been teaching, she had never encountered somebody who refused to counsel homosexuals."
"You're asking me to sell out God."
"Now, I had never refused to counsel homosexuals," Julea says. "I had simply refused to affirm their behavior. It was a values conflict." The adviser countered that she, too, had a values conflict – with Julea’s position. "She felt like she could not deal with my stance because it conflicted with her values."
In the informal review, Julea was told that, because of her stance, she was in violation of the EMU code of ethics. She was given three options: 1) take part in a remediation program designed to change her "belief system," 2) withdraw voluntarily from the master’s program, or 3) request a formal review hearing. Julea chose the third option … and tried to reconcile in her own mind what exactly she’d done wrong.
"She was taught in required classes and required textbooks that if you encounter a situation like this, you should refer the client to another counselor," says Jeremy Tedesco, who became Julea’s primary ADF attorney. "If you as a counselor stay in a therapeutic relationship where you have a value-based conflict with the client, and you don’t refer them to a different counselor, you actually are compromising the therapeutic relationship – and potentially harming the client."
"If Julea’s referral was unethical," Tedesco says, "then no value-based referral is ethical. And if that’s true, then every counselor – whatever his or her beliefs – could be kicked out of the profession for referring when they run into a value-based conflict with a client. So the university has to take the position that either no one can make a value-based referral, or everyone can except Julea. Either way, there’s no way the university can justify their actions."
In the formal review, as in the informal one, Julea was required to face a panel of professors alone, without family, friends, or legal support. The academicians grilling her were all from the counseling department, knew and worked with Julea, and so were personally involved, directly or indirectly, in the situation. No one outside the department was permitted to take part.
"They rehashed my position, and I again clarified that my position would stand," Julea says. "I would not be able to affirm a homosexual relationship, because it went against my biblical convictions.
"I tried to explain that I had no problems counseling someone who was involved in homosexual behavior on any other issue that they might have. I wanted to make it clear that this had nothing to do with being afraid of homosexuals or thinking negative thoughts (about them). This had everything to do with wanting to stay true to the word of God because of my relationship with God."
Looking into faces that were clearly set against her, Julea couldn’t help but remember an earlier conversation with her supervising professor. When Julea explained that, by urging her to change or sublimate her views on this issue, "You’re asking me to sell out God." The professor just laughed.
"What it comes down to is, she’s in disagreement with the public university establishment on that issue," Tedesco says. "They just don’t like her religious views on homosexual behavior."
"If (the university is) going to say, ‘We’re going to be open and tolerant of things,’ then let’s show that you’re going to be tolerant – not just say it," her husband, Darryl, says. "They’re saying, ‘We don’t accept what you’re saying. You have to conform to what we want you to say, and to the stance that we want you to take.’"
"Had I compromised... I really couldn't live with myself."
"What they’re doing isn’t even reasonable – much less constitutional," Tedesco says.
A few days after the formal review, a letter notified Julea she was out of the program.
"I’ve read about people who were persecuted," Julea says, "people who have been killed for standing up for the Lord. So I guess when I got that letter, I said, ‘Okay, now it’s your turn, Julea. You’re here.’ Paul talks about being persecuted for Christ, and he wore it like a badge of honor. If this is what I can do … I’m not being maimed, I’m not being tortured, I’m just being asked to take a stand on what the Bible says. And certainly I can do that.
"Some people have said, ‘Why didn’t you just go ahead and finish the program, and then do what you want to do afterward?’ I can’t do that. When God gives you the opportunity, you have to take it. If He permits an opportunity for us to stand up for Him and we don’t take advantage of that, then what does that say about my gratitude about all the other blessings He’s given me throughout my life?"
ADF filed a lawsuit against EMU on behalf of Julea Ward. A hearing on a preliminary injunction asking for her immediate reinstatement in the program is scheduled for December.
"The best thing about ADF assisting me," Julea says, "is feeling like I have somebody who is championing for the Lord … a sense of security … like we can speak out for God with boldness. ADF gives us something to fight with, so that we’re not just sitting ducks.
"The other thing is: ADF is good at what they do. The people who work for ADF know their stuff, they’re compassionate, and most importantly, they love the Lord."
ADF attorneys, in turn, have been just as impressed with Julea.
"Most students would buckle under the pressure she was exposed to," Tedesco says, "and just done whatever they were asked to do to get their degree. But she believed her conscience was being violated, and she drew a line in the sand.
"I’m optimistic about the case," he says. "It’s not just that we should win – we have to win. The bottom-line question is: can a public university kick a student out of one of its programs because that student refuses to violate or abandon his or her sincere Christian beliefs as a condition to receiving a degree? The answer to this question must be no, or the doors of public universities will be shut to sincere, Bible-believing Christians."
"Here’s the thing," Julea says. "I’m at peace. And I’m at peace because I know that what I’ve done, the Lord is pleased with.
"You know, sometimes we don’t know the will of God. In this situation, I knew what the will of God was … and that was for me to stand up for His Word and not to compromise. Had I compromised – had I put my relationship with Christ on a shelf somewhere – I really couldn’t live with myself."
When the choice is that clear … there’s just no mistaking the right thing to do.