My previous blog posting described the paucity of addictions treatment facilities in the United States open to working with LGBTs. A related concern is the availability of counselors and therapists demonstrating competence – and even willingness - to work with LGBTs, including those with addictions issues. Michigan’s “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act” exemplifies this concern.
Julea Ward was in an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) counseling program and dismissed in March 2009 after she refused, as part of her training, to counsel a gay client. She told school administrators that she could not “affirm any behavior that goes against what the Bible says.”[i] During a school hearing on her case, she stated she would not abide by school standards when they contraindicated her religious beliefs. In her ongoing lawsuit against the University, Ward is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center considers one of the twelve “most influential anti-gay groups” in the country.[ii]
Tupac Hunter, A Michigan State Senator and one of the sponsors of the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act” wrote, “I believe a student should not be forced into a situation in which he/she would have to provide treatment that compromises their religious or moral convictions or requires them to conceal their values conflict in order to avoid expulsion from a degree program. How is this good for the student or the client, especially? There is no dishonor to the profession nor harm done to the client by simply referring him/her to another individual who can best assist the client in meeting his/her established goals for counseling.”[iii]
Michigan’s proposed law is modeled heavily on a similar law passed in Arizona in 2011. These “conscience clauses” prohibit public and private colleges, universities, junior colleges, and community colleges from disciplining or discriminating against a student in counseling, social work, and psychology programs because the student refuses to serve a client whose goals conflict with his or her sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. According to David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association (ACA), the organization that accredits EMU, “We train students to understand that the client is more important than they are. Just because someone has different values, doesn’t mean we can’t counsel them. We don’t have to agree with them, but we must accept them for who they are.”[iv] The ACA mandates that counselors are not to allow their personal values to intrude into their professional work. Additionally, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, a division of the American Psychological Association, cautioned that a “conscience clause…permits discrimination and exclusion of students from gaining competence in working with diverse populations. The legislation threatens psychology’s work toward multicultural competence, which has become an empirically based and ethical criterion for practice and training.”[v]