Sep 15, 2011

A graduate counseling student at Eastern Michigan University refused, as part of her required practicum, to counsel any University client who might require advice about a homosexual relationship or a relationship involving sexual activity outside of marriage. Although the student stated that her religious beliefs prohibited her from counseling patients on these topics, she was expelled by the University for refusing to fulfill program requirements.

The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the university; she argued that the had a First Amendment right to refuse to treat such patients. After the federal trial court in Michigan dismissed the case, the plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

On February 11, 2011, we filed an amicus brief in support of the University. Although the plaintiff equates the counseling of clients with the expression of a personal viewpoint, the brief observes that the plaintiff was mistakenly equating the provision of counseling services with the expression of her political or religious views: “A counselor’s treatment of a patient is no more expressive activity than a motion drafted by a law student in a legal clinic; in each case, a professional school must ensure that the student is learning to properly serve her clients.”

On January 27, 2012, the Sixth Circuit reinstated the plaintiff's case. In a narrow decision, the Court of Appeals recognized the University's right to adopt a non-discrimination policy and prohibit counseling students from referring patients with whose values they disagree. But the Court identified a factual dispute over whether the University did, in fact, prohibit all students from referring patients to other counselors and whether the University in fact expelled the plaintiff becasue of disagreement with her religious beliefs.

The parties ultimately reached a settlement, in which the university paid the plaintiff a modest sum of money but was not required to reinstate her into the counseling program.