Sunday, July 25, 2010


I Don't Want to Hear It!

Here's an interesting lawsuit, Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley et al., in the Southern District of Georgia:

A graduate student in school counseling is accusing Augusta State University in federal court of violating her constitutional rights by demanding that she work to change her views opposing homosexuality.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Augusta, Ga., the student, Jennifer Keeton, argues that faculty members and administrators at the university have violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion by threatening her with expulsion if she does not fufill (sic) requirements contained in a remediation plan intended to get her to change her beliefs.

Ms. Keeton's lawsuit accuses the university of being "ideologically heavy-handed" in imposing the requirements on her "simply because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity." It argues that her views, which hold that homosexual behavior is immoral and that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, would not interfere with her ability to provide competent counseling to gay men and lesbians.
In essence, the university required that Keeton undergo "remedial" training, partly for her poor writing skills and, relevant to her lawsuit, concerning her "ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations."

The plaintiff is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, self-described as "a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth." The text of the Complaint can be found at the ADF's website. Perhaps the heart of the lawsuit is this:

57. Miss Keeton gave consideration to her options in the days following the May 27, 2010 meeting. She did not want to be subject to the terms of the second portion of the remediation plan, which required her to be subject to a sustained program of proselytizing that was overtly hostile to her Christian convictions, which no other student was required to endure in order to remain in good standing in the program.
Strangely (or maybe not so), the ADF does not include Exhibit B, the actual remediation plan Keeton was required to adhere to. Here are the relevant parts:

Another equally important question that has arisen over the last two semesters is Jen's ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations. Jen has voiced disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian "lifestyle." She stated in one paper that she believes GLBTQ "lifestyles" to be identity confusion. This was during her enrollment in the Diversity Sensitivity course and after the presentation on GLBTQ populations. Faculty have also received unsolicited reports from another student that she has relayed her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations, and she has tried to convince other students to support and believe her views.

There are three major issues of concern with these statements and behaviors. First, these statements and actions are in direct conflict with the codes of ethics to which counselors and counselors-in-training are required to adhere. Section C.5, of the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2005) clearly states that counselors "do not condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law" (p. 10).

Part of the Preamble of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Ethical Standards (2004) states:

Each person has the right to be respected, be treated with dignity and have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations regardless of ethnic/racial status, age, economic status, special needs, English as a second language or other language group, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, retigious/spiritual identity and appearance. (p. l)
The ASCA Etnical Standards further state in section E. 2 that the professional school counselor:

a. Affirms the diversity of students, staff and families.
b. Expands and develops awareness of his/her own attitudes and beliefs affecting cultural values and biases and strives to attain cultural competence.
c. Possesses knowledge and understanding about how oppression, racism, discrimination and stereotyping affects her/him personally and professionally.
d. Acquires educational, consultation and training experiences to improve awareness, knowledge, skills and effectiveness in working with diverse populations: ethnic/racial status, age, economic status, special needs, ESL or ELL, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity and appearance. (p.4)
These codes dictate the necessity for counselors to possess an awareness of personal biases, a desire to gain knowledge of multicultural populations, as well as the ability to remain respectful, affirming, and most importantly, responsive to the needs of minority populations. This is especially important for school counselors, which Jen aspires to be, as they are responsible for assisting in the development of an affirming and safe school environment for all students in schools.

Secondly, the psychological research about GLBTQ populations asserts that sexual orientation is not a lifestyle or choice, but a state of being. Most researchers believe that how one becomes gay or lesbian is a complex process influenced by both biological and environmental factors. To work effectively with the population, one must develop an understanding of the history, discrimination, oppression, and current problems that confront GLBTQ people.

Third, research in psychological peer-reviewed journals has also reveals that conversion therapy is ineffective in changing individual's sexual orientation from same-sex attractions to opposite-sex attractiveness. Peer-reviewed studies have actually indicated that conversion therapy may harm clients rather then help them. The American Psychological Association repealed inclusion of homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973, stating that it is not a mental health condition for which people are in need of change.

Given all of the above, and since the ASU counseling program trains counselors to work in public as well as private institutions, faculty question Jen's ability to become an effective practitioner in the counseling field without more deliberate and intentional action to further develop her multicultural counseling awareness, knowledge, and skills specifically towards working with GLBTQ populations. Her lack of awareness of how her beliefs may negatively impact future clients is of great concern. Therefore, the steps below are required.

Summary of Remediation Planning Session:

Faculty met with Jennifer on May 27 to review the problems described above and develop the following remediation plan:

Remediation Plan Outline :

To address issues of writing ...

To address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy:

7. Jen will attend at least three workshops prior to the end of the mil 2010 semester which emphasize improving cross-cultural communication, developing multicultural competence, or diversity sensitivity training toward working with GLBTQ populations. She will provide to her advisor evidence in the form of attendance certificates.
8. Jen will continue to develop her knowledge base on GLBTQ issues by outside reading on the topic. She will read at least ten articles in peer-reviewed counseling or psychological journals that pertain to improving counseling effectiveness with GLBTQ populations. There is much research available on the ALGBTTC webpage under Resources.
9. Jen will work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations. One such activity could be attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta. She will report on these interactions in her reflections (below).
10. Jen will familiarize herself with the ALGBTIC Competencies for Counseling Gays and Transgender Clients.
11. Each month - Jen will submit a two-page reflection to her advisor that summarizes what she learned from her research, how her study has influenced her beliefs, and how future clients may benefit from what she has learned.
12. Based on these written reflections and two scheduled meetings with Jen prior to December 2010, faculty will decide the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program

Please note that failure to complete all elements of the remediation plan will result in dismissal from the Counselor Education Program.
Let's consider the hypothetical of a graduate student in geology who insisted that he believed in "Flood geology" as an explanation for the geologic record. Would educators be within their right to insure that the student understood the evidence for an old Earth?

In this case, is it proselytizing to insure that Keeton understands "how her beliefs may negatively impact future clients," by knowing, even if not agreeing with, present psychological views of the genesis of gender and sexual identity? Or is it merely fulfilling the object of education? Nothing in Exhibit B requires that she change her views, only that she be aware of the contrary evidence and reflect upon it.

Keeton is claiming that she was threatened with termination from the program if she did not change her religiously held views. If so, she may have a case under the First Amendment. But if the claim is that she should be free from having her religious views challenged by information inconvenient to her beliefs, then she is just demanding to be ignorant ... something that no educational institution needs to concede.

There's been a couple of similar cases in the UK where the Human Rights Act gives roughly equivalent free speech protection. One was a Registrar whose job was to conduct civil marriages including civil partnerships. She refused on religious grounds and was sacked; the case has so far gone against her through the appeals court. A closer parallel is a sex counsellor who similarly refused to become involved with LGBT counselling and again was sacked.

The courts here have held that the legal duty about non discrimination coupled with the nature of their jobs outweighed any conscientious grounds they might have. In other words, if you don't like the work, change jobs.
Or consider the real case of a student in geology--Kurt Wise, who at least went through the motions to show that he understood what was being taught. But he was not in a position to council rocks and fossils that they are actually less than 6,000 years old.
Now, now, in the interests of conscience who could object to a counsellor who advises gay people they should just get cured, or that someone who's being discriminated against because they're black should try skin lightening creams or that a Muslim who feels excluded should convert to Christianity. What's wrong with that?
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