Anti-gay counseling student in Ga. loses appeal

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imageA graduate student at Augusta State University who wanted to counsel LGBT people that they are “morally wrong” and violate professional ethics lost her effort to keep the school from dismissing her if she didn’t complete a remediation plan.

Jennifer Keeton, a conservative Christian enrolled in the school’s counselor education program, asked the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s ruling rejecting her request for a preliminary injunction against Augusta State. She wanted the court to free her from the school’s mandate that she complete a three-step remediation plan before engaging in one-on-one counseling in the program’s clinical practicum.

The three-judge panel, which includes conservative former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, refused her request in a 40-page ruling on Friday. It’s the same appeals panel that delivered a sweeping victory to Vandy Beth Glenn earlier this month. Glenn was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly when she announced plans to transition from male to female.

On Friday, the appeals court said the school’s remediation plan does not “constitute discrimination against Keeton’s views regarding homosexuality.”

“The record, as a whole, establishes that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Keeton’s motion for a preliminary injunction,” the court ruled. “At this stage, the record supports the finding that Augusta State imposed the remediation plan to prevent Keeton from violating the rules of the clinical program. Immediately after Keeton refused to adhere to the remediation plan, Augusta State refused to allow Keeton to enroll in that program. Augusta State did not demand that Keeton change her beliefs or refrain from all expression of those beliefs.”

The court also said that the school has “legitimate pedagogical concern in teaching its students to comply with the [American Counseling Association] Code of Ethics.” It added that Augusta State’s remediation plan made it clear that the school was concerned with Keeton’s “ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor” and her “ability to maintain ethical behavior in all counseling situations.”

Keeton argued that school violated her First Amendment rights with a remediation plan that required her to:

(1) attend at least three workshops which emphasize improving crosscultural communication, developing multicultural competence, or diversity sensitivity training toward working with the GLBTQ population;

(2) read at least ten articles in peer-reviewed counseling or psychological journals that pertain to improving counseling effectiveness with the GLBTQ population;

(3) work to increase her exposure and interaction with the GLBTQ population by, for instance, attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.

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