Julea Ward, a graduate student in the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University, was expelled from the program. She had referred a homosexual client to another counselor since she would have been in the position of affirming the client’s sexual orientation as being morally acceptable, something that Ms. Ward did not accept due to her religious beliefs. Although the counseling program has a non-discriminatory policy on “sexual orientation,” there were procedures in place for a student to refer a client in case of values conflicts. Instead the university’s counseling program showed its intolerance for traditional Christian belief on the moral unacceptability of practicing homosexuality.
Ms. Ward sued, and the initial court ruling was in favor of the university. However, today a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling. In his opinion, Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton made it clear that tolerance is not a one-way street, and that the university was punishing Ms. Ward for her religious beliefs.
This marks a significant victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion in academia. Many academics are products of the mindset of the 1960s, with its transvaluation of values and its support of positions inimical to those of traditional Christianity. It is far to say that many academics hate traditional Christianity and traditional morality concerning sexual ethics. Such vitriolic hated expresses itself in intimidation and sometimes dismissal of students and faculty who disagree with the “New Puritanism” (as my late friend Marion Montgomery called it) in academia. Often, when people like Ms. Ward fight back, they win in court (though with the radicalism of Mr. Obama’s appointees this may change in the future). Traditionalists in academia, both among faculty and students, should, of course, pick their battles, but when it becomes time to fight, they should fight aggressively. There are organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) who lend support for academics unfairly treated due to dogmatic ideology in academia. These organizations give hope to faculty and students who face discrimination, and the Sixth Circuit Court ruling today is a breath of fresh air.