Her religious discrimination suit is returned to a federal jury. Meanwhile, a proposed law in Michigan would allow students to refuse to treat any client they chose, out of any genuine religious or moral belief.
For the first time, she won a court ruling in her case against Eastern Michigan University, which had disciplined her for refusing to provide counseling services to a gay client as part of her graduate practicum training. Just weeks later, legislation bearing her name moved forward in the Michigan legislature despite protests from universities and professional associations that the Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act would make it harder to effectively train mental health professionals.
In the court case, Ward’s victory was limited but it does keep her case alive. While not making a determination of the merits of the case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ward should have the opportunity to argue that her religious beliefs were used against her, according to the Associated Press. The case will be returned to a Detroit-based federal jury.
In the Michigan legislature, the House Education Committee advanced HB5040, the bill bearing Ward’s name. According to the Holland Sentinel, the bill would “prohibit religious discrimination against students who are studying counseling, social work, and psychology.” That description seems a bit narrower to me than the bill itself, which goes beyond just prohibiting discrimination: it actually prohibits universities from any disciplinary actions against students who refuse to treat clients based on “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.”
You can keep up with the bill’s progress here: HB5040.
I wrote about Ward’s case for Family Therapy Magazine a couple of months ago (full article: Can a religious therapist refuse to treat gay and lesbian clients?). She described the events that led to her lawsuit in this video for the Christian-based legal organization that is defending her:
I’ll be writing more about HB5040 and other “conscience clause” legislation in the near future. In the meantime, the Pew Research Center offers a fascinating legal history of conscience issues in health care.Update: About a week after this post was initially published, I posted another piece about conscience clause legislation.# # #Share your thoughts on this case: Email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, post a comment below, or find me on Twitter (@benjamincaldwel).