A university in Michigan has agreed to pay damages to a student who was expelled for refusing to receive homosexual sensitivity training because she would not affirm a fellow student’s sexual relationship.
As previously reported, Julea Ward, a high school teacher, was enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program in 2009 and was just a few courses short of obtaining her third master’s degree when she found herself in a difficult conflict.
Ward had just begun her practicum, a time when she could have first hand experience in counseling while being supervised by one of her professors. Before meeting her first client, she found out that the session would involve a homosexual that was seeking advice regarding their physical relationship. Ward contacted her adviser and explained that as a Christian, she could not condone homosexual behavior. She then was encouraged to have the clinic assign the session to another counselor.
However, soon afterward, Ward’s adviser used the situation against her.
“The following week, I was told that she would be scheduling an informal review because out of all of the years she had been teaching, she had never encountered somebody that refused to counsel homosexuals,” Ward explained. “I had never refused to counsel homosexuals; I had just simply refused to affirm their lifestyle.”
Therefore, Ward appeared before a small group of university professors who questioned her about her faith.
“They kinda went over with me my position, which was the fact that I could not affirm homosexuality because of my relationship with Christ,” she said. “They went on to say that because of my stance, I was in violation of the Code of Ethics, and that I had three options that I could choose.”
Those options were that Ward either undergo homosexual sensitivity training and amend her ways, face a formal review by the university or leave the program and forfeit her degree. She chose the formal review.
“I thought that perhaps at the formal review hearing there would be some understanding, and there would be some tolerance,” Ward explained. “But, I was met with more intolerance.”
As Ward stood before a panel of three university professors during the formal review, she was questioned about her beliefs, including whether she felt that her “brand” of Christianity was superior to others who profess to be Christians but are accepting of the homosexual lifestyle.
“You’re asking me to sell out God,” she told the panel, who informed her that they would release a decision within a week.
Several days later, Ward received a letter stating that the university had unanimously decided to expel her from the counseling program, which would mean that she would not be able to receive her Master’s degree.
She then filed a federal lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University, but U.S. District Judge George Steeh dismissed the suit in summary judgment.
Upon appeal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court reversed Steeh’s decision, stating that Ward’s case had a right to be heard. The three-judge panel opined that the university may have used its Code of Ethics “as a pretext for punishing Ward’s religious views and speech.”
“A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree,” the ruling outlined. “Why treat Ward differently? That her conflict arose from religious convictions is not a good answer; that her conflict arose from religious convictions for which the department at times showed little tolerance is a worse answer.”
The case then went to trial.
This month, Eastern Michigan University sought to settle the matter with Ward, which resulted in an official order of dismissal of the case.
As part of the settlement, the university agreed to pay for the counseling degree that Ward was forced to obtain from another institution after being expelled. It also stated that it would remove the expulsion from her record.
The university outlined in a news release yesterday that it could not afford to proceed with the case.
“EMU has made the decision that it is in the best interest of its students and the taxpayers of the state of Michigan to resolve the litigation rather than continue to spend money on a costly trial,” stated Walter Kraft, vice president of communications. “The matter has been resolved in the amount of $75,000. The University’s insurance company, M.U.S.I.C. (Michigan Universities Self-Insurance Corporation), will pay the cost of the settlement.”
Kraft noted, however, that the settlement also means that the school will keep its policies in place and will still require counseling students to affirm the homosexual lifestyle.
“The resolution of the lawsuit leaves the University’s policies, programs, and curricular requirements intact,” he explained. “The faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has been representing Ward, said that it is satisfied with the resolution.
“Public universities shouldn’t force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree,” said Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, following the settlement. “We are pleased that Julea and her constitutionally protected rights have been vindicated.”