Can Universities Expel Students For Their Anti-Homosexual Views?

Ken AshfordEducation, Godstuff2 Comments

The story is in the news this week not once, but twice.

First, in Georgia:

(July 27) When officials at Georgia's Augusta State University told counseling student Jennifer Keeton they were concerned her outspoken Christian views might affect her ability to work with gay, lesbian and transgender clients, they gave her a choice: participate in a remediation plan or leave school.

Instead, she has chosen to sue.

Not the first time this has happened.  Another student faced the same dilemna in Michigan, and also sued.  The decision was handed down yesterday:

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a public university that removed a Christian student from its graduate program in school counseling over her belief that homosexuality is morally wrong. Monday's ruling, according to Julea Ward's attorneys, could result in Christian students across the country being expelled from public university for similar views.

Conservative blogs are all over it, typically misreporting it.  Over at Redstate, Erick Erickson posts this misleading account:

In Michigan, a federal judge has upheld the expulsion of a graduate school student for believing homosexuality is morally wrong. 

But that's not the story.  And that's not what the judged ruled.

In both the Georgia and Michigan cases, the students were attending a graduate program, seeking a degree in counseling.  That's the relevant point.  This isn't discrimination based on religious belief; it's simply that the student refuses to meet the qualifications necessary to graduate.  In both these situations, the schools require that all graduating counseling students meet the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics.

Professional certification guidelines are totally constitutional.  One of the requirements of the degree both the Georgia and Michigan students are pursuing is that they treat clients equally and respectfully, and don’t impose their personal beliefs on their clients.  It has nothing to do with the student's religion and everything to do with the requirements of the job they voluntarily pursued.  

Essentially, these students wanted to get a degree in a program accredited by the ACA… without meeting the requirements of the ACA.  Yeah, I want that, too.  In fact, I want to be a board-certified medical doctor, but I have a religious objection to going to med school.  I should be able to get a degree anyway, right?  Right?  What — I can't?  Why that's religious discrimination!!

Note: both lawsuits are being handled by the Alliance Defense Fund, a right-wing Christian conservative legal organization which generally has a bad track record on this, mainly because they think the First Amendment means that people of faith can skirt rules which apply to everybody.  

Of course, there's a likely possibility that all this was a set-up: the students knew the graduation requirements and guidelines before they set foot in a classroom.  It's possible these were simply test cases pushed by the ADF in the first place.

So can universities expel students for their anti-homosexual views?  Generally, no — of course not.  But they can expel (or refuse to graduate) students for failing to do the required work to get the degree they seek.  And if a student's religion/conscience prevents that student from meeting specified graduation standards, so be it.  It's certainly not the university's fault.