Court Rules Against Crazy Anorexic-Looking Religious Zealot In Her Attempt to Coerce University


Jennifer KeetonSad face for Jennifer Keeton, who won’t be able
to pretend to be a scientist anytime soon.
(Alliance Defense Fund)

Jennifer Keeton failed in 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court last week in her attempt to coerce Augusta State University (ASU) of Georgia into awarding her a master’s degree the school contended she was refusing to earn.

Keeton, a psychology student, refused to do coursework associated with LGBTQ population, which rendered her unable to participate in the required practicum of one-on-one counseling. She was ordered to participate in a remediation plan. From the ruling (pdf) in Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley:

Rather than completing the remediation plan, Keeton filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that requiring her to complete the remediation plan violated her First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights. Along with her verified complaint, Keeton also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would prevent ASU’s officials from dismissing her from the program if she did not complete the remediation plan.

So, rather than do the coursework, she filed a lawsuit, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). According to Southern Poverty Law Center,ADF “trains other attorneys ‘to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda’ in free, week-long National Litigation Academies, whose participants commit to ‘provide 450 hours of pro bono legal work on behalf of the Body of Christ.'” ADF President Alan Sears claims that the ultimate goal of the gay-rights movement is to “silence” Christians.

It was Plaintiff-Appellant’s contention that Keeton’s views on LGBT people were protected as religious freedom and she was not obliged to consent to ASU presenting her with materials that were challenging to her worldview. The ruling includes this background (emphasis added):

In her brief, Keeton describes herself as a Christian who is committed to the truth of the Bible, including what she believes are its teachings on human nature, the purpose and meaning of life, and the ethical standards that govern human conduct. She holds several beliefs about homosexuality that she views as arising from her Christian faith. She believes that “sexual behavior is the result of personal choice for which individuals are accountable,not inevitable deterministic forces; that gender is fixed and binary (i.e., male or female), not a social construct or personal choice subject to individual change; and that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle,’ not a ‘state of being.’”

ASU’s officials became aware that Keeton held these beliefs when she expressed to professors in class and fellow classmates in and out of class that she believed that the GLBTQ population suffers from identity confusion, and that she intended to attempt to convert students from being homosexual to heterosexual.

Keeton also said that it would be difficult for her to work with GLBTQ clients and to separate her views about homosexuality from her clients’ views. Further, in answering a hypothetical posed by a faculty member, Keeton responded that as a high school counselor confronted by a sophomore student in crisis, questioning his sexual orientation, she would tell the student that it was not okay to be gay. Similarly, Keeton told a fellow classmate that, if a client discloses that he is gay, it was her intention to tell the client that his behavior is morally wrong and then try to change the client’s behavior, and if she were unable to help the client change his behavior, she would refer him to someone practicing conversion therapy.

These may well be Jennifer Keeton’s views and she certainly has a Constitutional right to hold and express them.

But they are very far from the mainstream views of the medical or psychiatric profession, and also of the psychological profession which she is seeking to be an accredited member. Keeton’s faith in “conversion therapy” is among the most glaring antithetical views she holds. The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in 2009 by a vote of 125-to-4, saying psychologists should not tell patients they can “become straight” by therapy or any other means. APA added “efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.”

It is an unfortunate reality that one can lead a student to the class, but one cannot make them learn. Keeton was always free to take the courses and completely disregard all the science and studies that inconveniently contradicted her Christian Fundamentalist worldview. She was free to chew her gum, play with her Blackberry, doodle on her notebook and pass the time disengaged and uninterested, as many, many a college students do with required courses that they’d rather not have to sit through. And having passed the course, degree in hand, there was little that could compel Keeton not to totally disregard the lessons she’s been “forced” to endure. She could have gone on to be an ineffective, and even destructive and harmful counselor to LGBT people in crisis with few mechanisms in place to stop her.

But she and Alliance Defense Fund staked out a position that she had the right to the degree, while not complying with the established curriculum that ASU required of her. The very act of requiring she merely be exposed to the knowledge base of her chosen profession was an affront to her religious freedom, they contended.

The court didn’t see it that way. They concluded:

Just as a medical school would be permitted to bar a student who refused to administer blood transfusions for religious reasons from participating in clinical rotations, so ASU may prohibit Keeton from participating in its clinical practicum if she refuses to administer the treatment it has deemed appropriate. Every profession has its own ethical codes and dictates. When someone voluntarily chooses to enter a profession, he or she must comply with its rules and ethical requirements. Lawyers must present legal arguments on behalf of their clients, notwithstanding their personal views. Judges must apply the law, even when they disagree with it. So too counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.

The ACLU, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of ASU, has this to say:

As this decision makes clear, while we’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, schools like ASU can mandate that counseling students adhere to professional standards and not use their religion to discriminate against students who come to them for help. This is especially important for LGBT students in crisis, who may have already faced rejection and judgment from their community, and who may not have any other trusted adult to talk to.

Georgia? This doesn’t make up for Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, but it helps.

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