The Daily’s recent editorial regarding Eastern Michigan University’s dismissal of counseling graduate student Julea Ward gets the idea wrong (Getting the wrong idea, 04/13/2009). In the Daily’s admirable defense of academic freedom and ideological diversity in the classroom, and of Ward’s decision that she could not provide clinical services to a man involved in a gay relationship because it went against her religious beliefs, it states that Ward was dismissed “for no other reason than that they (administrators) found her views distasteful and wanted to send a message.” In fact, the counseling faculty did not dismiss Ward for her views. They dismissed her for her actions.

They did not dismiss her because they found her views distasteful but rather because her refusal to treat a gay (or for that matter, any gay) patient violates the standards of practice for the health care profession that she hopes to enter — standards EMU has a responsibility to make sure she understands and is able to meet. Ward is free to believe whatever she wants about homosexuality (though I agree with the editorial that her views are “misinformed, backward and wrong”). But as a potential health care provider, she is not free to simply say she is unable to treat homosexuals as a group of people any more than a doctor is able to refuse treatment to people of color because he or she sincerely believes in white supremacy or a dentist could refuse to work on a woman’s teeth because he believed in male superiority.

If Ward wanted to become a sociologist, an anthropologist or a literary scholar and argue against gay rights and gay equality in an academic setting, that would be one thing. And in that case, she should be completely free to hold her increasingly minoritarian views. But as soon as she crosses into providing health services, she is not free to discriminate against gay clients any more than a gynecologist should be able to discriminate against, say, wives in a plural marriage. For years, Christian conservatives have told gay people that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

Bearing no ill will to Ward or those who share her beliefs, I say that I hate the sin of seeing homosexuals as inferior and discriminating against them as a result. And I support Ward completely in her freedom to believe religiously what she believes. But if she is unable to provide services to gay people as a result, she has shown that she lacks the basic competence required to serve as a counselor, and her dismissal from a graduate program designed to help students learn the established standards of that profession is entirely correct.

Charley Sullivan

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