Ward vs. Eastern Michigan University Settled Out of Court

Julea Ward was kicked out of the MA program at Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program because she refused to counsel  against what she said her religious beliefs required. She referred a gay student after consulting with her supervisor and the program faculty believed she had violated ethics. She sued over her dismissal and after losing the first round, prevailed on appeal with the 6th Circuit Court. However, rather than defend the expulsion of Ward another time, the University settled the case out of court yesterday with a payment of $75k going to Ward. The Detroit Free Press has the summary. See also Inside Higher Ed.

Since the beginning of the case (2009), I have not commented on this situation because I served as an expert witness on behalf of Ward throughout the case. My interest in the case was not to defend Ward’s decision not to counsel a gay student but rather to preserve the ability of counselors to refer in situations of moral conflict. In recent years, the American Counseling Association has been moving toward a position where counselors are considered to be acting unethically if they refer a client to another counselor for almost any reason. By this standard, if a Christian client wants an atheist counselor to affirm Christian teaching, the atheist should do so and work within the client’s system. One can imagine numerous pairings that would be problematic for both client and counselor. Given that counselors are human beings with ambivalence and biases, I think it is very important for the welfare of clients to allow referral when a counselor is bothered by what seems like a moral dilemma.

Thus, I saw this case as much broader than a gay rights case. Some readers might be surprised that I provided expert testimony on Ward’s behalf. I would not have done the same thing as Ward did. However, counselors who are not ready to work with various populations should not do so without help. Referral must be preserved as an option for the many personal and moral conflicts which can arise in counseling.

The dismissal is here and the 6th Circuit court of appeal decision (note the focus in this decision on referral) is here.

As a part of this case, my approach to these issues (sexual identity therapy) was misrepresented at various levels. I intend to now set those matters straight. More about that to come.