An Augusta State University graduate student is facing dismissal from the university's counseling program unless she silences her convictions on homosexuality and gender identity, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Jennifer Keeton, 24, plans to press forward with her lawsuit against the university if she is not allowed to retain her biblical viewpoints and remain a graduate student at ASU, according to the complaint filed by the Alliance Defense Fund. The complaint names ASU President William Bloodworth and professors Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley, Paulette Schenck and Richard Deaner as defendants, according to the documents filed in United States District Court in Augusta.
"Jennifer Keeton has not been accused of mistreating a client," said David French, senior counsel for ADF, a legal alliance that supports religious freedom. "She's being told, 'You must change your beliefs or we'll deny you a degree.' "
Keeton claims that she has voiced her Christian beliefs inside and outside the classroom on homosexuality and other biblical teachings. ASU faculty has ordered her to undergo a remediation plan, which would include diversity sensitivity workshops, she says.
Professors also suggested that she attend Augusta's Gay Pride Parade last month, Keeton told her attorneys. As a part of the plan, she would report back once a month to faculty to determine whether the activities have an impact on her convictions.
Keeton, who is from the Atlanta area, plans to become a school counselor, and says she refuses to change her religious beliefs. She enrolled in the program last fall, but was not asked to begin the remediation plan until this summer.
"While I want to stay in the school counseling program, I know that I can't honestly complete the remediation plan knowing that I would have to alter my beliefs," Keeton said in a video produced by the defense fund. "I'm not willing to, and I know I can't change my biblical views."
Her lawyers declined a request for an interview with Keeton.
The defense fund has handled similar cases the past few years. A Missouri State University social work student filed suit against the university when she was asked to change her views on same-sex adoption, French said. The university later settled. An Eastern Michigan University counseling student filed suit when the university threatened to dismiss her for her religious views. The case is still pending.
"This is an emerging trend in education, social work and counseling," French said. "Schools are trying to ensure that their children graduate with a particular world view."
Edward Delgado-Romero, a University of Georgia associate professor of counseling psychology, said he is not familiar with the case, but is aware that every university counseling program has national guidelines on training and practice. Every student entering the counseling field should be aware of what is considered acceptable, he said.
"All programs that are training professional counselors have guidelines, not in terms of belief but in terms of behavior during training and treatment," Delgado-Romero said. "A student saying 'I personally have religious beliefs against this group, and I will convince my clients to believe this' would be a conflict."
Delgado-Romero said that UGA's faculty would not force a student to change their beliefs, but there would be discussions on how personal beliefs should not affect treatment of clients.
Messages left for an Augusta State University spokeswoman were not returned Thursday evening.
Though Keeton has refused the remediation plan, the university has not taken steps to dismiss her, French said.
Keeton is suing the university for actual and nominal damages to vindicate her "constitutional injuries," according to court documents. She is also requesting that the university pay for her attorney fees.
"I really want to serve others," Keeton said. "I want to strengthen and prepare young people for the challenges they will face."