Thanks to a bill recently signed into law by Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, students enrolled in helping profession (counseling, social work, and psychology) programs at Arizona public universities will no longer have to choose between their religion and their degrees when they are assigned a client who seeks counseling that conflicts with their sincere religious beliefs. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for public universities to force this unconstitutional choice upon students who find themselves in this predicament. Indeed, current ADF client Julea Ward, who was enrolled in a graduate counseling program at Eastern Michigan University, chose to follow her religious convictions rather than provide therapy that violated those convictions, and her university expelled her. Her case is currently on appeal.
The Arizona law provides many protections for religious students, including a provision permitting students enrolled in helping profession programs to avoid counseling relationships that would require them to violate their religious convictions. The specific provision of the law states: "A university or community college shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel a client about goals that conflict with the student's sincerely held religious belief if the student consults with the supervising instructor or professor to determine the proper course of action to avoid harm to the client."
Sadly, the American Counseling Association ("ACA") sent Governor Brewer an eleventh hour letter urging her to veto the bill because it contained the above provision. ADF responded to the ACA's letter, pointing out several misrepresentations in it and assuring Governor Brewer that universities with accredited counseling programs would not lose their accreditation if the bill was signed into law.
Thankfully, Governor Brewer signed the bill on April 29, 2011.
For a profession that is becoming increasingly hostile to persons who take their religious faith seriously (the ACA not only objected to protecting the religious liberties of Arizona students but has also actively defended Eastern Michigan's expulsion of Julea Ward), this new Arizona law must be tough medicine to swallow. Three cheers to the Arizona legislature and Governor Brewer for taking decisive legislative action to protect religious students who desire to enter a profession that is trying to close its doors to them.