We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the threat of losing our religious freedoms in this country, particularly when it comes to our nation’s public school campuses. Indeed, if current trends continue, it’s not too difficult to envision a scenario where historically cherished icons of the Christian faith (like crosses, nativity scenes and the Ten Commandments)—as well certain Biblical viewpoints deemed “intolerant”—are routinely banned from the public square.
But there was a glimmer of hope this week—one of several legal wins that could turn out to be out to be a proverbial thumb in the dike helping to stem the predicted flood of religious freedom violations: A final victory for Julea Ward, a graduate student who was expelled from the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University.
She was studying to become a high school counselor. But the university deemed her unfit to continue in her studies. Her crime? She remained true to her convictions as a Bible-believing Christian. The conflict arose when Julea was assigned a practicum client that had previously been counseled about his homosexual relationship. She let her supervisors know that she could not affirm a client’s homosexual behavior. She then respectfully requested to refer the client to another qualified counselor.
That simple action began a tortuous ordeal that eventually culminated with her expulsion. (Read more about her story here.) But rather than bow down to political correctness, Julea persevered through a painstaking, three-year legal battle. Among other things, she stood accused of violating the program’s nondiscrimination standards.
This week, her courage was rewarded: The university revoked her expulsion and agreed to a financial settlement. The catalyst for the university’s retreat was a ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stating that “Tolerance is a two-way street.”
What “exactly did Ward do wrong” in making the referral request? asked the Court. “Ward was willing to work with all clients and to respect the school’s affirmation directives in doing so. That is why she asked to refer gay and lesbian clients (and some heterosexual clients) if the conversation required her to affirm their sexual practices. What more could the rule require?”
Surely, the Court pointed out, a nondiscrimination policy would not require “a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct if the conversation takes a turn in that direction” or “require an atheist counselor to tell a person of faith that there is a God if the client is wrestling with faith-based issues.”
“Tolerance is a two-way street. Otherwise, the rule mandates orthodoxy, not anti-discrimination.”
The court’s statement is significant for students and educators nationwide for these reasons:
1) It clarifies that true tolerance allows individuals to maintain the integrity of their deeply held convictions, even if those beliefs are unpopular or happen to be considered out of the mainstream. True tolerance does not mandate that those convictions be punished or censored because they differ from the majority viewpoint. Otherwise, “tolerance” or “anti-discrimination” policies would become just another Orwellian mechanism for forcing conformation to politically accepted doctrine or campus “orthodoxy.”
2) The ruling becomes even more significant when you realize that the enforced-orthodoxy scenario the court warned about is playing out on lots of college campuses today. Just to mention a few examples:
- In the name of “antidiscrimination policies,” Christian student clubs are being told they can’t require their own club leaders to share their Biblical beliefs—in essence, rendering the very purpose of their club meaningless.
- An esteemed university for deaf students placed its chief “diversity” officer “on leave.” Why? She dared to sign a petition in favor of allowing voters to have a referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
- Berkeley students in California are currently trying to ban Salvation Army bell ringers from their campus—again, all in the name of preventing discrimination.
It’s mind-boggling that those who attempt to censor and punish others under the banner of ending “discrimination” are so blind to the irony of their own glaring intolerance. But perhaps that’s the sort of intellectual blindness that results when radical, left-wing activism takes priority over academic freedom and diversity of thought. We hope the courage of Julea Ward brings us one step closer to restoring balance on our nation’s campuses.
Learn more about true tolerance in public schools.
Learn more about the details about the case from the Alliance Defending Freedom.