Changing ‘biblical views’ on homosexuality?
The ethics of counseling and freedom of religion
Last week CNN reported on a Georgia graduate student who is suing her university for forcing her to undergo remedial classes or face expulsion from its counseling program.
Jennifer Keeton claims the university violated her right to free speech and practice of religion by forcing her to undergo this extra program of classes, which was largely targeted at improving her tolerance of LGBTQ individuals. Keeton objected to completing this remediation program because she claimed that it would have forced her to alter her religious beliefs. Are Keeton’s objections to the remedial program valid?
Going through a remedial program designed to increase her exposure to individuals who might not share her religious beliefs is not in itself a way of forcing her to change those beliefs. Such a program might bring her to question those beliefs, but equally, Keeton could emerge from this sensitivity training with her religious convictions intact. This is a weak objection to completing the program.
However, Keeton is free to sermonize about the evils of homosexuality, privately and publicly, and should face no disciplinary action in light of those beliefs alone.
The situation is further complicated because we must also consider the ethics of counseling. While Keeton is free to express her own beliefs, as a counselor, she would have a professional responsibility to not let those beliefs affect her work.
It is inappropriate in itself to threaten to expel a potential counselor for publicly voicing anti-gay sentiment. However, any competent counselor, no matter how much they may disagree with a particular client’s sexual preferences, will never allow their personal beliefs to interfere with the beliefs of the client. If Keeton went on and on about her strongly held religious views of homosexuality, her instructors have an understandable apprehension in giving her a diploma.
Seen this way, it’s clear that Augusta State is well within its rights making Keeton take the remedial classes; they had a legitimate concern about her competency as a counselor. The issue becomes a judgment call; is a potential counselor who is vocally anti-gay a liability to the profession, as well as to the fulfillment of her duties as a counselor? The answer is probably yes.
Image used under a Creative Commons Attribution License from Flickr user Joe Houghton