ACLU Brief Argues That School Counselors Cannot Refuse To Counsel Gay And Lesbian Clients

February 11, 2011

Public Universities Can’t Force Student Counselors To Change Their Views, But Can Require Them To Follow Curriculum

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief today supporting Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU’s) right to remove from its counseling program a graduate student who refused to counsel lesbian, gay and bisexual clients on any issues relating to same-sex relationships during her clinical training. The graduate student, Julea Ward, was in training to become a school counselor.

“While counselors are certainly entitled to their own religious beliefs, EMU correctly took steps to prevent Ms. Ward from imposing those beliefs on her clients in the university’s training program,” said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “EMU would be remiss if it allowed counseling students to discriminate against clients for any reason, including sexual orientation.”
 
EMU’s counseling program requires its graduate students to adhere to the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, which prohibits counselors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or imposing their personal beliefs on clients.  

“LGBT students in crisis should be able to turn to a school counselor for help without fearing rejection or judgment,” said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Guidance counselors have a duty to treat all students fairly and professionally regardless of who the students are or what issues they are grappling with.”

Ward previously asked a district court to require the university to allow her to participate in the university’s counseling program while refusing to work with gay clients. The court denied her request. The ACLU asked the federal appeals court today to affirm the lower court’s decision.

“The university has a professional obligation to teach its counseling students to deal with a range of people and issues, and to ensure that clients are not harmed by their counselor’s actions,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “There is no place for discrimination when counseling people in need.”
 
The ACLU’s amicus brief can be found at: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/ward-v-wilbanks-amicus-brief

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