Ga. Counseling Student in Court Over View On Gays
An attorney for a graduate school counseling student told federal judges in Atlanta on Tuesday that the student’s First Amendment rights were violated when professors at a Georgia university sought to punish her for her biblical views on gay rights.
Augusta State University put Jennifer Keeton on academic probation for saying it would be hard for her to work with gay clients, and threatened to expel her unless she attended events like Augusta’s gay pride parade, Keeton’s attorney Jeff Shafer told the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"She was told, ’You don’t have to believe it. You just have to say you do,’" Shafer said.
Augusta State University countered that the counseling program would risk its accreditation if it didn’t hold Keeton to a code of ethics. The school has a duty to require students to counsel all segments of the community, including those who are gay or transgender, it said in court papers.
Keeton told other students that she was interested in practicing conversion therapy - where a therapist tries to "cure" a person from being homosexual - after graduation, said Cristina Correia with the state Attorney General’s office. Correia said Keeton also told her professors she would tell any clients who said they were gay that homosexuality is morally wrong.
University faculty were concerned that Keeton was scheduled to practice counseling in middle and high schools as part of her degree program and could possibly harm young students with her views, Correia said.
"The university has a responsibility when putting students in a practicum and graduating them," Correia said. "When you have that kind of evidence, the faculty could not, under their ethical standards, put that student in a clinical setting without further remediation."
Keeton, who said she’s a devout Christian "committed to the truth of the Bible," enrolled in the school’s counselor education program in fall 2009 and soon began discussing her views that sexual behavior is a personal choice and that gender identity isn’t subject to change.