The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that an expelled Eastern Michigan University (EMU) graduate student's civil rights lawsuit can proceed in a Michigan federal court, reports the Detroit Free Press.
Julea Ward, who enrolled in the EMU program in 2006 to become a high school counselor, declined to counsel a homosexual client during her school practicum because her "Christian beliefs would not allow her to affirm the client's homosexual behavior," according to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is representing Ward.
Ward asked for the client to be reassigned to a different counseling student. Following a discussion with her adviser and a formal review hearing about the conflict, Ward was dismissed from the EMU program.
EMU contends that Ward's refusal to counsel the client violated the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics. Ward claims that the school violated her First Amendment free speech rights.
Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that a jury should make a decision on the merits of the case.
A three-judge panel ruled, "Ward's free speech claim deserves to go to a jury. Although the university submits it dismissed Ward from the program because her request for a referral violated the ACA Code of Ethics, a reasonable jury could find otherwise -- that the code of ethics contains no such bar and that the university deployed it as a pretext for punishing Ward's religious views and speech."
Julea Ward is not the only counseling student that that the ADF has represented in a free speech rights battle over advising gay and lesbian clients; the Christian legal powerhouse also represents Augusta State University counseling student Jennifer Keeton, who lost a preliminary injunction appeal in her case before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in December.
- Ward v. Polite (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Will Jennifer Keeton Win 11th Circuit Free Speech Rights Case? (FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit blog)
- Julea Ward's Case Goes to a Jury (National Review)
- Contribution Prohibition is Lawful Limit on Free Speech Rights (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit blog)