Keeton says she tried to bargain

Student's motives were questioned, documents claim
Jennifer Keeton (left) shakes hands with Pam Tebow at the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center banquet, Oct. 26, 2010.

The Augusta State University counseling graduate student who is suing the school because of an alleged free-speech violation was willing to undergo, and even signed, a remediation plan designed to increase her understanding of the homosexual community before retracting her agreement days later out of concerns she would be forced to abandon her biblical convictions about homosexuality.

In court documents filed Tuesday as a response to the school's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for 24-year-old Jennifer Keeton describe her professors as adamant that Keeton could not complete her degree program unless she fundamentally changed her beliefs.

Keeton's account of the events leading up to her lawsuit against the school paints a picture of a faculty whose "core concern" was that she believed her biblical views were universal and not just personal preferences, which they said was unethical.

Keeton, on the other hand, was willing to undergo a remediation plan designed to increase her contact with homosexual communities -- telling them she had "determined that she could both maintain her biblical beliefs and affirm the dignity of her clients."

The faculty, specifically Dr. Paulette Schenck, openly questioned Keeton's sincerity, writes her attorney, Jeffrey A. Shafer, of the Alliance Defense Fund.

"Dr. Schenck responded by questioning her motives, suggesting that Miss Keeton was agreeing to participate in the Remediation Plan in order to stay in the ASU counseling program, not because she was committed to reconsidering her views on (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) matters," court documents say.

The documents show that both sides were close to reaching an understanding that would have skirted legal action, but which fell through after neither was willing to compromise.

Schafer argues that school officials' "highly partisan retelling" of the events surrounding the lawsuit in their motion to dismiss the case omits critical facts that show Keeton's rights were violated.

To defend their claim, Keeton and her attorney spend several pages detailing the events from Keeton's point of view. In them, they describe the school as formulating a remediation plan "designed to counter, undermine, and change (Keeton's) convictions" by having her attend workshops, readings and a scheduled Augusta Gay Pride parade in order to become more knowledgeable about the homosexual community.

In a June meeting about the plan -- the group's third -- Schafer writes that Keeton again told her professors that she "would not impose her beliefs on clients, but noted that she could not affirm homosexual conduct." She was then told by defendant Dr. Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley that it was not possible for her to both complete her degree and maintain her biblical convictions on homosexuality.

"She additionally urged Miss Keeton to not even attempt the Remediation Plan if she was not willing to affirm clients' homosexuality, and urged her to consider completing her degree at another school whose program is more consistent with her beliefs," Shafer wrote.

In an e-mail sent to the defendants after the meeting, Keeton writes that she would help her clients work toward their own goals, but she was not willing to affirm behavior that she thought was immoral, listing abortion and homosexuality as examples.

"I can't alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation," she wrote.

Later, Shafer argues that the school's actions chilled Keeton's speech during a summer session psychology class.

Shafer said the class was holding a discussion on human sexuality and gender that conflicted with Keeton's views, but that she chose not to speak up in class because of the "unfavorable attention and consequences" that happened earlier.

In their motion filed in September, school officials said their intention was to only ask Keeton to "make certain her own beliefs and values do not interfere with her ability to counsel clients who do not share those same values," according to the filing.

Attorneys for the defendants filed a notice of intent Wednesday to reply to Keeton's filing.

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Keeton’s response to the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss her lawsuit.
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Jennifer Keeton’s lawsuit.

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