A former student at Missouri State University has filed suit in federal court against the University after being dismissed from the school’s counseling program because of his Christian beliefs. Andrew Cash filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Western Missouri, alleging violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Cash enrolled as a student in Missouri State’s counseling program in 2007, and was pursuing a Master’s Degree in that subject. However, he was kicked out of the program in 2014 after he stated that he would be unable to affirm the homosexual relationship of a “gay couple” in a counseling session because of his religious beliefs. Cash said he would refer such clients to another counselor.
Cash had served his Master’s internship beginning in 2011 at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian counseling center. Once Missouri State officials learned that the center held the same moral standards as Cash about homosexual relationships, the University expunged 51 hours of his internship counseling from his record. He was then ordered to undergo 10 hours of “remediation” training because he had not recanted from his Christian convictions about the subject.
Cash was informed by faculty advisor Dr. Kristi Perryman* that he could not maintain his Christian values on marriage and human sexuality because they were “unethical,” and under the Code of Ethics of the American Counseling Association, were “discriminatory toward gay persons.” After appealing the removal of his internship credits, Cash was dismissed from the university’s counseling program despite the fact that he was nearing the completion of his master’s degree and had a 3.81 GPA.
In his lawsuit, Cash asserts that three counseling department faculty members and the University’s Board of Directors violated his “freedom of thought, religion, and association,” and had caused him “devastating emotional distress and financial hardship” by ruining his opportunities for a career in counseling. “Andrew Cash was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview,” the complaint reads, and Missouri State University “denigrated his personal and professional abilities” because of his religious convictions.
“Traditionally, universities have been places for free exchange of ideas and values, both religious and secular,” says Thomas Olp, attorney for the Thomas More Society, which is representing Cash in the case. “Unfortunately, Missouri State University departed from its mission by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash simply because he expressed sincerely held religious beliefs which the advisor deemed hostile to her own.” The lawsuit demands that the University reinstate Cash in its counseling program with “safeguards put in place so that he can successfully earn his degree.”
Andrew Cash isn’t the first student to find himself the victim of bigoted treatment from the liberal bullies in academia at Missouri State University. A little over ten years ago Emily Brooker found herself coping with the same anti-Christian hostility on the Springfield campus.
Brooker was a student in MSU’s Social Work program. In the fall of 2005, she was enrolled in a class in Social Welfare Policy. A representative from PROMO, the state’s homosexual rights organization, was invited to address the class. Following the presentation, students were ordered to write a letter to state legislators advocating for the right of homosexuals to adopt children.
Emily Brooker declined to sign such a letter, and her professor promptly filed a high-level grievance against her. She was brought before a grievance committee that interrogated her harshly regarding her religious beliefs. She was then instructed to write a paper demonstrating that she had “lessened the gap” between her personal beliefs and the “professional obligations” of the social work “ethics code.”
Brooker was threatened with removal from the program and loss of her diploma if she did not comply with the ideology of the Social Work Department. She sued the University with the help of local attorney Dee Wampler and the Alliance Defending Freedom. The University reached an out-of-court settlement which completely vindicated Brooker. Her professor was placed on academic leave, and the grievance was removed from Brooker’s academic record. The University also agreed to pay Brooker’s tutition and living expenses for two years of graduate school.
At the time, Missouri State University commissioned an independent study of the college’s Social Work Department. The results of the study revealed what the reviewers described as a “toxic environment.” “Neither of the reviewers have ever witnessed such a negative, hostile, and mean work environment,” the report stated.
The study stated that faculty members used bullying to “browbeat” students…”with possible bias against students who are faith based.” The independent study concluded that the School of Social Work was such an exceedingly hostile learning environment that the University should either close down the department, or disband the faculty and restart the department with a fresh staff.
Then-Missouri State University President Michael Nietzel said that the evaluation of the Social Work program was “extraordinarily negative…In fact, it is as negative a review of an academic program as I have ever seen.” Yet the case of Andrew Cash illustrates clearly that University officials have done virtually nothing to cleanse the social work and counseling programs of anti-Christian prejudice and intolerance.
Despite its “toxic” reputation, Missouri State University is far from the only institution where Christian counseling students are treated as pariahs. Julea Ward was expelled from the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University for referring a homosexual client to another counselor. She was reinstated after litigation, and awarded $75,000. Jennifer Keeton was booted from the counseling program at Augusta State University because of her belief that homosexuality is sinful. Litigation on Keeton’s behalf was unsuccessful.
The state of Tennessee recently took action to protect the conscience rights of counseling students like Andrew Cash. Governor Bill Haslam recently signed a new law that states that no counselor can be forced to accept a client whose “goals, outcomes, or behaviors conflict with the counselor’s sincerely-held religious beliefs.” We will keep you posted on the progress of Andrew Cash’s case, and ask that you be praying that his hard work and selfless ambition to be a Christian counselor will yet be rewarded.
*Dr. Kristi Perryman was honored as the 2014-2015 Counselor Advocate of the Year by the Missouri School Counselor Association. Apparently she is a strong advocate for counselors unless you happen to be a Christian.