Degree in discrimination? Proposed Michigan law condones bias in university counseling programs
Legislators in Michigan are proposing a bill that opens the door to religiously grounded discrimination in counseling services.
Sen. Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit), the Senate’s Democratic floor leader, has co-sponsored a measure with Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) that would allow university counseling students to cite their religious beliefs and decline to treat certain clients. That means if a client fails to comply with the counseling students’ personal religious convictions, the students can opt out of providing help and still be eligible to graduate from an accredited, publicly funded university.
It’s just what the Alliance Defense Fund has been advocating for. That Religious Right group is representing former Eastern Michigan University (EMU) student Julea Ward in a lawsuit challenging her dismissal from EMU’s counseling program. Ward refused to counsel a gay client as part of an advanced course.
Ward, a full-time public school teacher working on her master’s, said she would not “affirm any behavior that goes against what the Bible says.” She told university officials that she would always refer to other counselors all clients who seek help for relationship issues that she believes to be “against the teachings of the Bible.”
School officials said they could not graduate someone who refused to treat all clients fairly in compliance with national ethical standards for accredited programs.
These standards prohibit “imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals” and “discrimination based on…sexual orientation.” (So-called “reparative therapy,” which seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation, is regarded as ineffective and potentially harmful.)
The ADF’s lawsuit on behalf of Ward, which is now before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, argues that the school has violated her free speech and religious liberty rights. Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Ward v. Wilbanks, says this is just another example of the Religious Right wanting a special exemption and a free pass to discriminate.
The proposed Michigan measure (S.B. 518), which was just introduced June 23, would prevent universities from dismissing counseling, social work or psychology students who choose not to assist clients because of conflicting religious beliefs.
“I firmly believe that it is wrong for any institution of higher learning in this state to expel a student from a program because of their refusal to compromise their own belief system,” Hunter said in a statement.
I firmly believe that it is wrong for the state of Michigan to condone discrimination – and that’s just what this measure would do. Americans United is keeping a close eye on this legislation and will keep you posted.