Many employees struggle to separate where their professional lives end and their personal lives begin. In 2009, Julea Ward was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program after she refused to counsel a gay student seeking help. According to the Detroit Free Press, Ward informed her supervisor that because of her religious beliefs she thinks that homosexuality is immoral and she couldn’t support a gay student’s relationship as part of her training. Following her dismissal, Ward sued EMU, citing religious discrimination. She claims the university infringed upon her First Amendment rights, and her removal from the program was centered on her unwillingness to change her beliefs.

According to a March 14 article, a federal court dismissed Ward’s case in July. Though Ward and her attorneys are within their rights in asking the United States Court of Appeals to reconsider the case, the court’s original decision should be upheld. EMU adheres to the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association and the Ethical Standards of the American School Counselor Association. The American Counseling Association’s “Layperson’s Guide to Counselor Ethics” states “professional counselor(s) will treat (patients) with respect and dignity, especially in regard to age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, or socioeconomic status.” By these standards, Ward clearly did not adhere to her responsibilities as a counselor.

Ward’s case isn’t about religious discrimination. EMU is within their rights to dismiss a graduate student who wouldn’t represent the professional integrity the school expects graduates to uphold. Counselors have an obligation to behave in a proper way — obviously one which befits the open-mindedness required in their profession. Ward herself was clearly discriminating against a demographic of students, which is wrong regardless of her reasoning. Would a medical school allow students to graduate if they informed their supervisors they would not provide medical treatment to African-American patients? The answer in that case, as it is in this case, is clear.

No one is questioning Ward’s rights to her personal religious views. The issue is her unwillingness to perform her job as she was expected to, and because she failed in her responsibilities, she was dismissed. The judicial system has recognized this once, and the appellate court should do the same.

What’s most troubling is Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s decision to release a statement in support of Ward. He claimed that religious freedoms don’t fall by the wayside on college campuses and that EMU is setting a dangerous precedent that threatens all students of faith. This statement ignores the professional standards that Ward refused to uphold. Even more concerning is Schuette taking a stance at all: After former Attorney General Mike Cox’s questionable handling of the Andrew Shirvell incident — in which the assistant attorney general accused Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong of having a “radical homosexual agenda” — Shuette’s statement continues an alarming trend of discrimination against homosexuals.

Contrary to Schuette’s beliefs, Ward was not dismissed for being a Christian, but rather for failing to perform her job duties. It’s important that the First Amendment not be used as a safety net for discrimination.

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