Lawsuit settled over anti-gay counselor

Dec. 11, 2012 at 3:13 PM

YPSILANTI, Mich., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Eastern Michigan University will pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a graduate student who was expelled after refusing to counsel a gay client.

Julea Ward, a student studying to become a school counselor, said she couldn't offer counseling to a gay client because of her religious beliefs, the Detroit Free Press said Tuesday. Ward referred the client to another counselor, but the school refused to accept her referral, saying she'd violated the American Counseling Association's guidelines.

Ward's lawyers disagreed.

"Public universities shouldn't force students to violate their religious beliefs to get a degree," said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that sued on Ward's behalf. "When Julea sought to refer a potential client to another qualified counselor -- a common, professional practice that is endorsed by her profession's code of ethics -- EMU denied the referral. Then it attacked and questioned her religious beliefs, ultimately expelling her from the program."

A school spokesman noted their anti-discrimination policy remains in effect despite paying Ward to settle the suit.

"The resolution of the lawsuit leaves the university's policies, programs and curricular requirements intact," said Walter Kraft, EMU's vice president for communications. "The faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University."

Under terms of the settlement, Ward's expulsion will be expunged from her academic record.

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