Freedom of belief v. academic freedom
Posted on January 6, 2012
Should Christians be exempted from basic educational and professional standards because of their deeply held religious beliefs? That’s the question taken up in a recent article by David Moshman, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Moshman’s article is in response to the recent case federal circuit court ruling in Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley. That case concerned Jennifer Keeton, who is seeking a master’s degree in school counseling at the public Augusta State University in Georgia. Here’s what happened:
[Keeton] describes herself as a Christian committed to biblical truth. As a Christian, she believes that sexual behavior is a choice for which one is accountable, that gender is fixed as male or female, and that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle.
At the end of her first year, as a condition for counseling individuals in the program’s clinical practicum, Keeton was told she must participate in a remediation plan to address what faculty perceived as deficiencies in multicultural competence, “particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.” Instead, she filed a federal lawsuit.
Keeton argued that the remediation requirement violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. Because the law moves slowly, Keeton requested a preliminary injunction to prevent ASU from dismissing her from the program for failure to complete the remediation plan. The district court denied the injunction because, it concluded, her lawsuit did not have “a substantial likelihood of success.” She was then dismissed from the program.
What does Moshman make of this ruling?
Students, the court was clear, have a right to believe whatever they believe, regardless of whether they believe it for religious or other reasons. They also have a general right to express their beliefs, including a right to express them in classes when they are relevant to the topic of discussion. It would have violated Keeton’s First Amendment right to free speech if the remediation plan was imposed on her because of disagreement with her views or to punish her expression of those views.
But the circuit court, like the district court, found that the remediation plan was imposed because Keeton had specifically and repeatedly “expressed an intent to impose her personal religious views on her clients,” which would have violated the ethics code of the American Counseling Association (ACA). It was a legitimate curricular requirement that Keeton be able to “counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics.”
It seems to me like the court struck reasonable balance between freedom of belief and academic freedom. A person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, and to promote his or her beliefs to the public in a number of different ways. However, if a person would like to pursue a certain line of work, he or she should be prepared to follow the rules (within reason), or else face termination.