Published July 27, 2010
A graduate student in Georgia is suing her university after she was told she must undergo a remediation program due to her beliefs on homosexuality and transgendered persons.
The student, Jennifer Keeton, 24, has been pursuing a master's degree in school counseling at Augusta State University since 2009, but school officials have informed her that she'll be dismissed from the program unless she alters her "central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct," according to a civil complaint filed last week.
"[Augusta State University] faculty have promised to expel Miss Keeton from the graduate Counselor Education Program not because of poor academic showing or demonstrated deficiencies in clinical performance, but simply because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical convictions on matters of human sexuality and gender identity," the 43-page lawsuit reads.
Keeton, according to the lawsuit, was informed by school officials in late May that she would be asked to take part in a remediation plan due to faculty concerns regarding her beliefs pertaining to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
"The faculty identifies Miss Keeton's views as indicative of her improper professional disposition to persons of such populations," the lawsuit reads.
In a statement to FoxNews.com, Augusta State University officials declined to comment specifically on the litigation, but said the university does not discriminate on the basis of students' moral, religious, political or personal views or beliefs.
"The Counselor Education Program is grounded in the core principles of the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association, which defines the roles and responsibilities of professional counselors in its code of ethics," the statement read. "The code is included in the curriculum of the counseling education program, which states that counselors in training have the same responsibility as professional counselors to understand and follow the ACA Code of Ethics."
The Code of Ethics prohibits counselors from discriminating based on a number of factors, including gender identity and sexual orientation. "Counselors do not discriminate against clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants in a manner that has a negative impact on these persons," the code says.
Keeton's lawsuit alleges that the university's remediation plan noted Keeton's "disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian 'lifestyle,'" as well as Keeton's belief that those "lifestyles" are cases of identity confusion.
If Keeton fails to complete the plan, including additional reading and the writing of papers describing the impact on her beliefs, she will be expelled from the Counselor Education Program, the lawsuit claims.
Keeton has stated that she believes sexual behavior is the "result of accountable personal choice rather than an inevitability deriving from deterministic forces," according to the suit.
"She also has affirmed binary male-female gender, with one or the other being fixed in each person at their creation, and not a social construct or individual choice subject to alteration by the person so created," the lawsuit reads. "Further, she has expressed her view that homosexuality is a 'lifestyle,' not a 'state of being.'"
David French, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit against Augusta State University on Keeton's behalf, said no university has the right to force a citizen to change their beliefs on any topic.
"The university has told Jennifer Keeton that if she doesn't change her beliefs, she can't stay in the program," he told FoxNews.com. "She won't even have a chance to counsel any students; she won't have a chance to get a counseling degree; she'll be expelled."
Keeton, who is not available for interviews according to French, believes that people have "moral choices" regarding their sexuality, he said.
"A student has a right to express their point of view in and out of class without fear or censorship or expulsion," French said.