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A federal appeals court gave a conservative Christian counseling student’s lawsuit new life last week, ruling that Julea Ward’s case against Eastern Michigan University could go forward.

Ward was expelled from EMU’s graduate counseling program in early 2009. As I wrote at the time, Ward asked to be reassigned off the case of a gay counseling client. In a letter she read during her disciplinary hearing, Ward said she believes that “God ordained relationships between men and women,” and that people should “strive to cultivate sexual desires for persons of the opposite sex.” She is, she said, “morally obligated … to express the biblical viewpoint regarding proper sexual relationships” in the course of her counseling work.

When asked by the school why she would feel comfortable counseling someone who was contemplating abortion, but not someone who was in a gay relationship. “With abortion,” she said, “you have options which you can offer. With a client that’s struggling with homosexuality … it’s just, ‘OK, this is who you are, so we’re only going to deal with helping you feel comfortable with who you are.’ You cannot discuss any other treatment plans that would bring them out of that particular lifestyle.”

The Ward case has become a cause celebre for the Christian Right, who see her expulsion as a violation of religious freedom and as evidence of the politicization of the counseling profession’s ethics codes. Although the American Counseling Association does not explicitly bar so-called conversion therapy intended to “cure” homosexuality, it notes that such therapies have no proven record of effectiveness. More importantly, as I wrote in 2009, it bars therapists from suggesting such approaches in the absence of a client-initiated request.

Last week’s decision is not a ruling against EMU on the merits of the case, but a reversal of a lower court’s granting of what’s known as “summary judgment” in the university’s favor. The court declared that because, under the most generous reading of the evidence available, “a reasonable jury could conclude that Ward’s professors ejected her from the counseling program because of hostility toward her speech and faith,” the previous decision to throw out the case before it reached a jury was mistaken.

The issues in play here are important ones. A fundamental question is that of the EMU (and ACA) policy on referral in situations in which a counselor is unable to meet a client’s therapeutic needs — Ward claims that such referrals are explicitly authorized by the ACA ethics code, and the appellate court ruling is sympathetic to that position.

As I’ve written in the past, however, the ACA code only anticipates client referral on a case-by-case basis, not a counselor’s rejection of an entire class of clients. And while Ward’s stance may seem reasonable on the surface, the fact is that a client’s homosexuality will not always be made known to a counselor in advance of the establishment of a therapeutic relationship. For a counselor to establish such a relationship and then break it off upon learning that her client is gay would, EMU rightly perceived, represent a profound betrayal and a violation of the counselor’s ethical obligations.

More on this as the case goes forward.

“Can’t I just calm down and enjoy the day? On a day when friends and fellow travellers have been beaten and arrested, no, I can’t. Sorry.”

–Laurie Penny, British journalist, gives her 140-character take.

There’s been a bit of a tussle in certain corners of the American progressive blogosphere over yesterday’s royal wedding.

I totally get the argument that everyone’s entitled to a bit of mindless cheesy celeb-gawking fun every once in a while. I totally get pomp. The wedding itself isn’t to my taste, but given my own pop culture preferences, I don’t really have any esthetic grounds for looking down my nose at it.

But here’s the thing. The British royal family has a long and sordid tradition of ethnic nastiness, a tradition that extends directly to this particular groom’s brother. It has a long and sordid tradition of sexual nastiness, a tradition that extends directly to this groom’s father’s treatment of this groom’s mother. It has a pretty long and sordid tradition of class-based nastiness, a tradition that absolutely and completely suffused yesterday’s spectacle.

Add to that the fact that the wedding is speculated to have cost the British taxpayer as much as fifty million pounds, at a time when Britain is slashing services to the poor. Add to THAT the fact that a huge number of left-wing activists in London were rounded up over the last week, in flagrant violation of their civil liberties, under the pretext of keeping things calm and cozy for the royals and their clique. Add to THAT the fact that each living Tory Prime Minister and ex-PM was invited to the wedding and neither of the two living Labor PMs were.

Add all that together, and I’d say that it’s at the very least an event that deserves some skeptical progressive analysis along with all the rah-rah.

The British understand this, by the way. UK media have been full of political analysis not only of the wedding itself, but also its reception. And that’s as it should be.

In reading about the book The Third Reich and the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, which I mentioned here last week, I stumbled upon the website of an interesting museum exhibit that’s currently up here in New York.

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges traces the history of several dozen German Jewish professors who, after fleeing Nazi Germany, took teaching positions at segregated colleges in the American South. According to the website, the exhibit emphasizes the relationships that grew up between these professors and their students, and the effect that this unusual meeting of cultures had on both groups.

The exhibit runs at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan through January. I’ll report back after my visit.

A new book, The Third Reich and the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, examines American academics’ response to the rise of Nazism, specifically noting that many “maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich” until after (sometimes well after) Kristallnacht, in 1938.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein makes a provocative point about that subject:

While Germany from 1933 through 1938 treated Jews very badly, it wasn’t until Kristallnacht that one could say that Germany was more vicious in its treatment of minorities than, say, Mississippi. American universities certainly weren’t boycotting Mississippi, so it strikes me as an obvious issue of hindsight bias to argue that American universities that were exceedingly tolerant of domestic racism should be specifically excoriated for paying little attention to foreign anti-Semitism, just because in historical retrospect we know that German anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust.

Without getting into an argument about whether one or the other was “more vicious,” I’d say that Bernstein doesn’t go far enough here. Many Americans put the German racism of the mid-1930s in a different category than the American racism of the same era not because of hindsight bias, but also because they don’t fully grasp, or haven’t fully come to terms with, just how brutal and horrific our country’s 20th century racial legacy actually is.

(I should note, by the way, that I’m not vouching for the rest of Bernstein’s post. I strongly disagree with parts of his arguments about Spanish fascism and American Stalinism, but that’s another topic for another time.)

A federal appeals court in Colorado has found that administrators at Lewis-Palmer High School did not violate Erica Corder’s rights when they forced her to apologize for remarks she made in a 2005 valedictorian’s address.

Corder’s speech — one of fifteen short addresses by students at the graduation — had been cleared by school officials in advance, but abandoned the agreed-upon text, instead delivering one that included the following lines:

I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don’t already know him personally I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with him.

Administrators then refused to give Corder her diploma until she made a public apology. Corder did so, but later sued the school.

In its ruling, the court found that because the graduation was a “school-sponsored activity,” and the public might reasonably believe that Corder’s speech had been approved by school officials, the punishment was not an unconstitutional one.

Corder’s attorney told the Student Press Law Center that censorship of, or punishment for, graduation speeches is improper. “When the student goes to the lectern to speak,” he said, “it’s their own words.”

About This Blog

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StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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