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For Expert Comment: MU Counseling Expert Disagrees with Federal Court Ruling for Eastern Michigan Case

MU professor says university was within rights to expel student based on professional standards

February 8th, 2012

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— On Jan. 27, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to rehear the case of Julea Ward v. Eastern Michigan University, suggesting that the graduate program may have expelled Ward on the basis of her Christian faith rather than on the basis of professional standards.

Roger L. Worthington, a professor of counseling psychology and higher education at the University of Missouri and an expert on the intersection of religious values and sexual orientation, said that the Sixth Circuit panel fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the counseling profession and the potential deleterious impact of their decision on lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.

“The court seems to be suggesting that the critical issue is that the student had not harmed anyone by requesting to refer a gay client, but that sets the bar far too low, especially for someone who intends to become a school counselor,” Worthington said. “The bar in this case needs to be much higher by asking the question, as is apparent in the decision of Eastern Michigan University: ‘What is our obligation to prevent future harm?'”

Worthington argues that the university is upholding a higher standard by refusing to wait until harm has been done and acting to prevent future harm. He also believes that there is no infringement by the university on the student’s right to her religious beliefs.

“The position of the university is that the student may not require that her own values take precedence over professional standards, regardless of whether those values are based on faith or some other source,” Worthington said. “The profession requires all members to check their values at the door in favor of professional standards of conduct, something Ms. Ward has refused to do.”