Keeton has appealed judge's ruling


It was almost a year ago that a conflict in an Augusta State University classroom became a national conversation.


When Jennifer Keeton, a counseling graduate student, filed a lawsuit alleging that professors threatened to expel her because she spoke out against homosexuality, she had her story on CNN and Fox News in addition to local headlines.

The Ku Klux Klan responded to Keeton's lawsuit by protesting outside the campus in her support -- which Keeton publicly condemned -- and gay rights groups and individuals also spoke up.

"Yeah, people were really talking about it," said Erica Anderson, who was a sociology senior when Keeton filed the lawsuit against ASU on July 21. "We talked about it in class, at school, people were interested."

Eleven months later, Keeton's name is mostly forgotten. A judge has ruled in ASU's favor and Keeton has appealed, but it all culminated without much notice.

"It hasn't really been a big deal lately," said Brandon Tripp, an ASU computer science senior. "I don't even know what ever happened to her."

Keeton is currently appealing U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall's Aug. 20 ruling that ASU was justified in requiring Keeton to undergo a remediation plan after she objected to counseling gay clients.

She filed the appeal in the U.S. District Court of Appeals three days after Hall's ruling, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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 said the requirement was viewpoint discrimination and a violation of her First Amendment freedoms. ASU officials said her idea to impose her beliefs on future clients was a violation of the American Counseling Association code of ethics.

Keeton's lawsuit was really a request for a judge to prevent the school from expelling her if she refused to fulfill the plan's requirements, which she said included a suggestion to attend last year's Augusta Gay Pride parade.

Without completing the plan, Keeton did not meet the requirements of the curriculum, and ASU expelled her Dec. 10.

Keeton did not return several telephone messages for comment for this story.

According to testimony in the initial hearing, the plan would have required Keeton to expose herself to the homosexual community, read literature on counseling gay clients and complete worksheets on her progress.

In the appeals court, six organizations, including the ACA and the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed briefs or included testimony on behalf of ASU.

Two groups, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Association of Scholars, filed a joint brief in support of Keeton.

On March 22, attorneys for ASU filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot because Keeton is no longer a student, but the court later denied that request.

Attorneys representing Keeton and ASU denied to comment for this story because of a gag order on the case.

Dr. David Kaplan, the chief professional officer for the ACA, said he's not surprised that Keeton's case is in the appeals court but that her actions are a direct violation of ACA standards.

"The ACA code of ethics is not about asking anybody to change their beliefs," Kaplan said. "Counselors clearly have the prerogative to have whatever religion they want. One of the points that gets lost in all of this stuff, from the Keeton side, is our clients are more important than we are ... We are there for them. They are not there for us."

Testimony from the ACA was used in a similar case last year when an Eastern Michigan University student unsuccessfully sued the school after being expelled for refusing to affirm the homosexual lifestyle in counseling clients.

The EMU student was represented by the same organization as Keeton, the Alliance Defense Fund.

"The driving force behind this is the Alliance Defense Fund," Kaplan said. "They are specifically looking for legal cases, not just in counseling, to promote their agenda. Their agenda is a particular world view that is exemplified by the Keeton case."

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles and a lawyer who wrote the brief for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on behalf of Keeton, disagreed.

Volokh said that even if the school was not asking Keeton to change her beliefs, it is still unconstitutional to require her to complete extra procedures because of her religious views.

That requirement is akin to the government's imposing a tax on certain people based on their views, Volokh said.

"This is not just a case about counseling procedures; it's not just a case about the clash between religious traditionalists and supporters of gay rights," Volokh said. "This is a case about what authority a university should have to retaliate against a student who expressed certain views inside and outside the class."

Gay rights group supports ASU in court
Keeton says she tried to bargain
Judge grants Augusta State stay in Keeton case
Ku Klux Klan rally runs short
Jennifer Keeton gets ASU lawsuit extension
School wants court to dismiss lawsuit
Student suing Augusta State works at Christian school
Judge rejects Keeton lawsuit
Judge puts off decision in bias case
ASU denies claims made by student
Judge tosses suit similar to ASU case
ASU student says gays have 'identity confusion'
Christian student sues ASU
About the series

Have you ever wanted to know what became of a local celebrity or a hot issue that once dominated the news?

The Augusta Chronicle provides answers to readers' requests in its new series, "What ever happened to ..." Today, we look at Jennifer Keeton, the Augusta State University student who gained national notice when she sued the school in 2010 after alleging that professors threatened to expel her because of her views on homosexuality.

Requests can be e-mailed to or mailed to The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903-1928, Attention: Mike Wynn, or placed in the online comment section.

Keeton timeline

JULY 21, 2010

- Jennifer Keeton files a lawsuit against Augusta State University, alleging faculty violated her First Amendment rights by threatening her with expulsion after she expressed her religious views on homosexuality.

- The complaint is a request for a preliminary injunction, which would prevent the school from expelling her if she refused to participate in the remediation plan.

- The motion for a preliminary injunction also calls for the school to prevent her from having to participate in the "thought-reform remediation plan which subjects her to aggressive ideological instruction ..."


U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall sets hearing for Aug. 11, 2010.

AUG. 9

ASU responds to Keeton's suit that after Keeton told another student she intended to impose her religious beliefs on future clients, the school asked her to participate in a remediation plan. The plan, according to ASU's statement, was not meant to force Keeton to change her beliefs but rather to increase her sensitivity to the homosexual community and read literature on how to properly counsel that population.

AUG. 11

The hearing in Hall's court included five hours of testimony from both sides. Keeton does not attend. Hall said that while he normally takes 10 minutes to decide whether to pass such a hearing on in the courts, he needed more time to deliberate on this case.

AUG. 18

Because Hall has not yet delivered a ruling in the case, Keeton misses her first week of classes at ASU which would have began Aug. 18. According to a brief filed in the court, Keeton already began practicum work at Augusta Christian School, but she was notified by Dr. Richard Deaner, a defendant in the case, that she could not attend classes at ASU relating to her practicum unless she is given notice by the court that her injunction was granted.

AUG. 20

A ruling. Hall denies Keeton's request for a preliminary injunction. He upholds ASU's remediation plan as constitutional: "... the remediation plan was crafted for (Keeton) not as retaliation for voicing her personal beliefs, but only because the faculty questioned (Keeton's) ability to perform as a counselor in a professionally ethical manner, as required by the counseling program's curriculum.

AUG. 23

Keeton files an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals on Hall's ruling.

SEPT. 11

The Chronicle reports Keeton is working on a one-year employment contract as a counselor intern at Augusta Christian Schools. In this position, she said she is working with students under the supervision of a counselor.

SEPT. 24

Attorneys for ASU file a motion asking the court to dismiss Keeton's lawsuit against the school. They ask the court to either throw the case out or require Keeton to present more specific evidence against the school, noting that her claims were so vague that it is "impossible to determine the factual basis for each claim."

OCT. 23

About a dozen Ku Klux Klan members protested in front of ASU's main entrance on Walton Way in support of Keeton. The KKK was met by about 300 counter-protesters. The two sides yelled out comments for about 30 minutes. About a month before the protest, Keeton and her attorneys issued a statement condemning the KKK's plans and rejecting any assistance from the group.

DEC. 10

Keeton is dismissed from the ASU counselor education program by the university, according to court documents.

DEC. 16

Court publishes an amicus brief from The Foundation for Individual rights in Education; The National Association of Scholars files in support of Keeton.

JAN. 1, 2011

Court publishes an amicus brief from The American Civil Liberties Union in support of ASU.

FEB. 9

- Court publishes an amicus brief from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in support of ASU.

- Court publishes an amicus brief from the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision; National Association of School Psychologists and The American School Counselor Association in support of ASU.


ASU attorneys file a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot because she is no longer a student at the university.

MAY 11

Keeton attorneys file a motion to reinstate oral argument for the case.

MAY 17

The U.S. Court of Appeals denies ASU's request to dismiss the appeal as moot.

A date for the oral argument has not yet been scheduled.



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