Howard Friedman, Religion Clause
In Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, (SD GA, June 22, 2012), a Georgia federal district court, in a lengthy opinion, dismissed claims by a former graduate student in Augusta State University’s graduate counselor education program that her constitutional rights were infringed when she was dismissed for refusing to complete a required remediation plan. The remediation requirements were imposed when graduate student Jennifer Keeton, a devout Christian, told faculty that she would not condone the propriety of homosexual relations or a homosexual identity in a counseling situation. This position violates professional ethical standards of the American Counseling Association that require counselors to respect the diversity of their clients and avoid imposing values on them that are inconsistent with counseling goals. The court rejected both Keeton’s facial overbreadth and vagueness challenges as well as her “as applied” challenges to the remediation plan. Finding no viewpoint discrimination against Keeton, the court said:
Keeton’s conflation of personal and professional values, or at least her difficulty in discerning the difference, appears to have been rooted in her opinion that the immorality of homosexual relations is a matter of objective and absolute moral truth. The policies which govern the ethical conduct of counselors, however, with their focus on client welfare and self-determination, make clear that the counselor’s professional environs are not intended to be a crucible for counselors to test metaphysical or moral propositions. Plato’s Academy or a seminary the Counselor Program is not; that Keeton’s opinions were couched in absolute or ontological terms does not give her constitutional license to make it otherwise.
The court also rejected Keeton’s “compelled speech” claim, saying that when someone voluntarily chooses a profession, the person must comply with its rules and ethical requirements. Finally the court rejected Keetons’s free exercise of religion, unconstitutional condition and equal protection challenges.
The court’s decision was consistent with an earlier 11th Circuit decision in the case that refused to grant a preliminary injunction because plaintiff had not shown a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits. (See prior posting.) SPLC reports on the district court’s latest decision.