When Jennifer Keeton mentioned her Christian beliefs in class discussions and in private conversations with classmates, she had no idea the price she would ultimately pay.
In the fall of 2009, Jennifer began her studies at Augusta State University (ASU), seeking to earn a masters degree in school counseling and then become a school guidance counselor. When class discussions and assignments addressed issues of gender and sexuality, she expressed her beliefs on the subject, beliefs that were rooted in her Christian faith. She did the same in private conversations with her friends and colleagues outside of class. That is, she explained that she believed that people are born either male or female and that they retain this gender throughout their lives, regardless of their desires or decisions later on. She also explained how she believed that sexual behavior arises from a person’s choices, for which he is accountable, and so homosexual conduct is a lifestyle choice, not a state of being.
In May 2010, ASU officials informed Jennifer that she would have to complete a “remediation plan” because she had expressed her Christian views on gender and sexuality and tried to persuade others of them. As part of this remediation plan, she would have to attend “diversity sensitivity training,” complete additional reading assignments, and “work to increase exposure and interaction with gay populations” by, for example, “attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.” Then she had to write reflection papers, explaining how these activities had “influenced her beliefs” so the faculty could determine “the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program.”
In multiple meetings over the next few weeks, ASU faculty denigrated Jennifer’s Biblical beliefs and demanded that she change those beliefs or leave the program. At one point, one professor told her, “You couldn’t be a teacher, let alone a counselor, with those views.” Later, this professor explained that Jennifer should not expect to complete the remediation plan without changing her beliefs. At a minimum, these professors insisted that Jennifer stop believing that the Bible’s teachings apply to all people and that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. And they insisted that she promise she would affirm homosexual conduct if any future clients ever asked her about the topic. When Jennifer would not change her beliefs or promise to affirm conduct that Scripture says is immoral, ASU expelled her from the counseling program in December 2010.
Shortly after ASU unveiled the remediation plan, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on her behalf. Sadly, both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld ASU’s actions in decisions that greatly undermined the free speech and religious freedom rights of university students.
What's at stake
Whether a public university may force a Christian student to choose between her faith and a degree.
Whether a public university may expel a student for holding mainstream Christian beliefs.
Whether a public university may severely punish a Christian student merely for disagreeing with the ideological views the school has decided are “correct.”
Whether a public university may control what a student thinks and says—even outside of class.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Jennifer Keeton and defended her right to live according to her religious beliefs while completing her masters degree.