Of counseling and the Klan

Jennifer Keeton was an MA student in Augusta State University’s counselor-training program, until she refused to administer conventional, affirming treatments to LGBT students because she believed homosexuality was “immoral and changeable” according to her biblical worldview. Claiming infringement of free exercise of religion, Keenan sued Augusta:

A graduate student is suing a Georgia university, alleging that professors are requiring her to change her “biblical views” on homosexuality or be expelled from the counseling program there.

Jennifer Keeton filed a civil rights action in U.S. District Court on July 21 saying Augusta State University violated her “constitutional rights of speech, belief and religious exercise.”

The action says university faculty have “promised to expel” Keeton “because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical conviction on matters of human sexuality and gender identity.”

After Keeton expressed her views verbally and in written assignments, faculty mandated Keeton complete a “remediation plan.”

CNN obtained a copy of the remediation plan from the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents Keeton in the action. The plan addresses issues such as writing ability and organizational skills, as well as Keeton’s ability to be a “multiculturally competent counselor, particularly in regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning populations.”

Among the plan’s requirements, Keeton was to attend at least three diversity workshops, get more exposure to gay populations (one suggestion was to attend a gay pride parade in Augusta, where the university is located), do outside reading about gays and write reflections on these experiences and how they might benefit future clients.

At first, Keeton agreed to the remediation plan, according to the suit. Then, she had second thoughts.

In video provided by the Alliance Defense Fund, Keeton says, “I want to stay in the school counseling program, [but] I can’t honestly complete the remediation program knowing I would have to alter by beliefs. I’m not willing to — and I know I can’t — change my biblical views.”

[via CNN]

That story is from June. In the meantime, there have been some developments in the case. A federal judge ruled against Keeton, but her case remains a rallying point for traditionalist organizations like Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. Now, she’s recieved another endorsement:

The Ku Klux Klan will hold a rally in support of an Augusta State University counseling student who claims her First Amendment rights were violated when the school ordered her to learn more about the homosexual community.

Bobby Spurlock, the imperial wizard knighthawk and grand dragon of South Carolina and North Carolina, said today the group has met with school officials and plans to protest the school’s treatment of 24-year-old Jennifer Keeton. The protest will be Oct. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m. They will be in full dress and located across from the school’s main Walton Way entrance in the median at Fleming Avenue.

Spurlock said they believe Keeton’s First Amendment rights were violated when the school required her to participate in a remediation program after she objected to counseling homosexuals.

“It’s your constitutional right so how could you tell someone you have to do something completely different?” Spurlock said.

Keeton sued the university in July because she felt she was not allowed to retain her biblical viewpoints and remain a graduate student.

The remediation plan required that Keeton attend counseling workshops, read counseling journals regarding gays and to increase her exposure to the gay community.

Spurlock said the KKK has not been in contact with Keeton herself.

“She is no way whatsoever affiliated with us,” he said. “She has not contacted us but we were contacted by someone that is aware of her.”

Even if she’s not affiliated…I imagine it’s still quite embarassing, to understate. I would hope anyone who finds the Klan rallying to their cause would take stock of their values and priorities.

But in any case, the endorsement will distort the conversation of the whole affair. LGBT and Allied bloggers with less imagination or impulse control will make unfair equivalencies between the average anti-gay marriage voter and the KKK, traditionalists will claim encroachment of secular elites, and no one will profit.  Though I come down on the side of the judge who ruled against Keeton, the case raises difficult questions about plurality of conscience in a free society. In brief, I think anti-Keetonites like myself are in a position where they have to explain their reasoning. Of cousre, I think anyone making an argument in public ought to be able to explain thier reasoning, but I digress.

My own runs like this:

If a chemistry student were to say she is committed a believer in phlogiston theory and that she would never consider revising her work or opinions to take into account the “false and pernicious” Periodic Table of Elements, I think many people would question her decision to go into that line of work. Or think of someone studying automotive safety engineering who said he thought seat belts were “immoral” because they allowed people to take risks they wouldn’t have if they weren’t strapped down, and thereby encourage wreckless driving. Imagine him refusing to consult statistics about seat belt’s life-saving capabilities, and replying to instructors who criticize his dangerous designs by saying “Here I stand and can do no other!”  Keeton’s case should send up the same red flags.  She has stated she is not even willing to consider the possibility that any new information might change her opinion on homosexuality. How can anyone be expected to teach someone who enters a classroom and flatly states she is not open to even considering she might be wrong? And insofar as she claims homosexuality is “changable,” despite all the evidence and the consensus of psychiatric authorities, she renders herself analogous to the phlogiston-theorist.

This isn’t about Christianity at all. This is about someone whose beliefs are in contradiction to the established practices and standards of her chosen line of study—in this case, psychology. Crisis counselors don’t affirm gay kids because they have an axe to grind with Christendom or any given sect, but because gay teens kill themselves at heartbreakingly high rates, and they want this to stop.

 Keeton implicitly proposes an alternative to affirmative therapy—she claims that homosexuality is a “changeable” condition, so presumably believes in the effectiveness of “conversion therapy” designed to “cure” homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association begs to differ; any objective, qualitative study has demonstrated they do nothing to curb same-sex attraction, almost always worsens the mental health of their participants. Keeton’s “alternative” to the rigorous empirical wisdom of the psychiatric establishment can only make LGBT kids even worse off then when they came to her.

But again, the reasons she believes homosexuality is wrong, and that it is her obligation to condemn gay kids and maneuver them into positively destructive “therapies” don’t matter. It’s the beliefs themselves, not their Christian origin, that anyone cares about. And the faculty only cared about those beliefs because they were afraid, even if she was able to finish her education at a different college that didn’t put her through a remediation plan, she’d end up hurting gay kids. They’re worried about children’s lives, not a political agenda.  

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