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Supreme Court of the United States

EMU learns that “Tolerance is a two-way street”: Victory in Ypsilanti

October 17, 2017

Julea WardLast Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the religious freedom of Julea Ward, an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) counseling student who was booted from the program when the school moved the goal posts after she properly followed all the rules.

After several years of service as a schoolteacher and informally counseling young people, Julea heard God’s call to help others in need.  She applied to EMU, worked hard, and distinguished herself as a student.  She was cruising toward her degree until she was assigned a client seeking assistance for problems with a sexual relationship.

This potential client’s problem conflicted with her sincerely held Christian beliefs, which prohibit her from providing counseling regarding heterosexual and homosexual relationships that fall outside of God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman. So, she did what she had been taught to do.  She went to her supervisor and asked her for advice on how to best handle the conflict.  The advisor told her to have the clinic assign the client to another counselor, advice directly from the counseling profession’s code of ethics.

Julea thought the matter was settled.  But a rude surprise awaited her as she was charged with ethical violations.  She was dragged before a formal review meeting where her beliefs were repeatedly mocked, and she was told she would have to see the “error of her ways” and change her “belief system” as a condition to getting her degree. Julea stood firm and refused to compromise in the face of the attacks and was dismissed from the program.

Julea called ADF and after two and a half years of hard-fought litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit asked:

“...what did Ward do wrong?  [She] was willing to work with all clients and to respect the school’s affirmation directives in doing so.  That is why she asked to refer gay and lesbian clients (and some heterosexual clients) if the conversation required her to affirm their sexual practices.  What more could the rule require? Surely, for example, the ban on discrimination … does not require an atheist counselor to tell a person of faith that there is a God if the client is wrestling with faith based issues.  Tolerance is a two-way street … A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems . . . as the price for obtaining a degree.”

Julea’s case will now return to federal district court for reconsideration.  Please continue to pray for her, for the ADF attorneys representing her, and that this brave woman’s courageous stand will have an impact for the religious freedom of public university students and counselors across America.

Your support can make all the difference

ADF is committed to reclaiming and preserving religious freedom on public university campuses. By God’s grace, and with the prayers and financial support of Christians like you, we will continue our winning record of success—defending the constitutionally protected rights of students, like Julea Ward, to freely live out their faith.