In the latest issue of Humanist magazine, Leon F. Seltzer tackles the issue of Christian counselors demanding to be exempted from a required code of ethics attached to a counseling degree/certificate because their religious beliefs oppose homosexual relationships.
In 2006 Julea Ward,a suburban Detroit high school teacher, enrolled in a master’s program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) with the goal of becoming a high school counselor. Although she performed well academically (maintaining a 3.91 GPA), from the start her unyielding religious views made her something of a problem student. An evangelical Christian, Ward would frequently butt heads with her professors about how her faith made it impossible for her to validate—or, in professional parlance, “affirm”—homosexual relationships, as well as heterosexual relations outside marriage. In this context, she was repeatedly reminded of the university’s anti-discrimination policy and the need to respect the sexual orientation and lifestyle of everyone she worked with.
During her final year, 2009, in her required practicum Ward was assigned a student for counseling. Reviewing his file just two hours before their scheduled meeting and noting his same-sex orientation, she called her faculty supervisor and requested that this student either be immediately referred to another counselor or that she begin counseling him but make a referral if he brought up any relationship issues. The faculty supervisor canceled the session and reassigned the student but also proceeded to set up an informal disciplinary hearing to deal with Ward’s unorthodox request, unprecedented in her twenty years of teaching and which she saw as creating an “ethical dilemma.” Counselors in training were expected to work with clients from a wide range of backgrounds and holding a broad array of views. Ward’s position, here and earlier, evidenced an inability—or unwillingness—to tolerate sexual orientations and preferences different from her own.
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Freedom of speech & Religion
In religion, ancient teachings offer conflicting values, especially in cases of intolerance of homosexuals, unwed pregnant women, and atheists. Can the Bible reliably determine who deserves to be counseled or legally challenged? Whose values warrant affirmation by the counselor?
Scripture has no inherent or consistent answers to help resolve these issues. Efforts to authoritatively decipher the Bible’s deeper meanings leave room for anyone to exploit its verses to their advantage.
“The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
~ Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.
Telling a client what to do or steering counseling in a direction of one’s personal preferences is a gross violation of American Counseling Association’s Ethics & Profession Standards resulting in immediate loss of one’s license.
If one works in an institutional context, i.e. school counselor, chaplain in the military, or in political and economic institutions, one would have to work with LGBT, unwed pregnant women, and atheists, or in all probability, he/she would be reassigned, demoted, subjected to valid criticism, voted out of office, or fired.
Why should religious beliefs be exempt from criteria to which others must adhere? Privately held beliefs, when in conflict with social norms of the populous or the separation of church and state, can easily be resolved by selecting an institution that supports those beliefs.