The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a trial at the district level for a graduate level counseling student who was dismissed from her program for asking that a client with “gay” issues be referred to another counselor because as a Christian she could not affirm that lifestyle choice.

Officials at Eastern Michigan University took that action against Julea Ward, a student approaching the end of her degree program with a 3.91 grade point average, even though, as the appeals judges noted, the school’s own practices in fact permitted such referrals.

The result is that a jury needs to make a determination on whether officials at the school attacked Ward because of her Christian beliefs or not, the ruling said.

“What exactly did Ward do wrong in make the referral request? If one thing is clear after three years of classes, it is that Ward is acutely aware of her own values. The point of the referral request was to avoid imposing her values on gay and lesbian clients. And the referral request not only respected the diversity of practicum clients, but it also conveyed her willingness to counsel gay and lesbian clients about other issues – all but relationship issues – an attitude confirmed by her equivalent concern about counseling heterosexual clients about extra-marital sex and adultery in a values-affirming way,” said the opinion, written by Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton.

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