Augusta State University's requirement that a graduate student read material about counseling gays and increase her exposure to that community after she objected to counseling homosexual clients was "academically legitimate," a federal court judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Randal Hall's decision enables university officials to expel Jennifer Keeton if she does not follow the remediation plan, which professors designed to "address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy."
Hall said the case is not about "pitting Christianity against homosexuality," but rather the constitutionality of the school's requirement.
Professors asked Keeton to complete the remediation plan after she said she opposed homosexuality and would tell gay clients "their behavior is morally wrong and then help the client change that behavior," according to an affidavit filed in the case.
Keeton filed a lawsuit against the school in July, alleging the requirement was viewpoint discrimination and a violation of her First Amendment rights.
Hall ruled that Keeton "failed to clearly establish her high burden of persuasion of a 'substantial likelihood' of success of the merits of her case."
She provided no evidence that ASU faculty imposed the remediation plan because they personally disagreed with her views, Hall said.
In an Aug. 11 hearing, ASU professors testified that the plan was not a punishment for voicing her beliefs, but a tool to teach Keeton how to counsel clients while not imposing her views.
"All three professors testified that they never told (Keeton) that she was required to change her religious beliefs in order to stay in the counseling program," Hall wrote.
He noted that Keeton did not testify at the hearing nor present any witnesses in support of her motion.
Hall said Keeton's unwillingness to adhere to the school's viewpoint-neutral code of ethics set by the American Counseling Association constitutes a refusal to complete the curriculum.
Without completing the remediation plan, Keeton was unable to begin classes at the college as part of a practicum. A filing by her lawyers earlier this week said she had begun the work at Augusta Christian School.
Hall ruled the plan was simply a way to teach Keeton how to counsel all demographics of clients.
"It was not (Keeton's) personal beliefs that were their concern, but rather only her inability to separate her personal beliefs in the judgment-free zone of a professional counseling situation," Hall said.