NAS Defends Freedom of Speech and Conscience in Ward v. Wilbanks

PRINCETON, NJ (January 11, 2011)—The National Association of Scholars (NAS) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case Ward v. Wilbanks, a case before the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Julea Ward was a student who was expelled from the Eastern Michigan University counseling program after she expressed her religious convictions about homosexuality to some of her professors.  

Assigned by the university to counsel a homosexual client, Ward was asked to affirm homosexuality as morally acceptable. Ward declined to make the affirmation and offered instead to refer the client to another counselor, an action in keeping with the counseling program's established policies for situations in which the counselor has personal objections to working with a client.

Program officials told Ward that her beliefs contradicted the counseling department’s views regarding homosexual behavior, and then assigned her to remediation in an attempt to change Ward’s views. When her beliefs remained unchanged, Eastern Michigan University dismissed her from the program.

“The National Association of Scholars is concerned about the erosion of freedom of conscience in American higher education,” said Peter Wood, president of the NAS. "Julea Ward's case is yet another instance in which university officials in the helping professions pursue a political agenda by calling it an academic standard. But there was no legitimate academic reason to force Julea Ward to disavow her religious beliefs or to conform to the beliefs preferred by the counseling program's faculty."

The amicus brief states, “In a society where people—both counselors and clients—hold very different moral and religious views, it makes perfect sense that referrals would be a legitimate and valuable option for counselors who foresee a potential conflict with the client‘s goals.”

The Alliance Defense Fund is representing Julea Ward in a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University. NAS calls on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the district court‘s denial of Ward‘s motion for summary judgment.

The National Association of Scholars works to protect freedom of speech and conscience in higher education. To learn more about NAS, visit www.nas.org.

See also “The Scandal of Social Work Education,” National Association of Scholars, September 11, 2007.

Video: “EMU Officials: Change Your Beliefs or Leave the Counseling Program,” Alliance Defense Fund, August 3, 2009. 

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