Christian Accuses Missouri State of Bias

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (CN) — Missouri State University kicked a student out of its master’s program in counseling because his religious beliefs prevent him from counseling gay couples, the man claims in court.
     Andrew Cash sued the Governors of Missouri State University, System President Clifton M. Smart III and other MSU officials on Tuesday in Federal Court.
     MSU’s masters program requires 600 hours of clinical counseling, 240 of them face-to-face, according to the lawsuit.
     Cash says in the complaint that defendant Kristi Perryman, former internship coordinator for the MSU Counseling Department, approved his internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI) in the fall of 2010 and that at least one student had successfully completed an internship at SMFI.
     Each student is required to make a class presentation. Cash proposed to his instructor, nonparty Kara Davis, that he do his on Christian counseling and he made his presentation at SMFI on April 11, 2011.
     During the presentation, a student asked SMFI Executive Director W.K. Boyce whether he would counsel gay couples. Boyce responded that he would counsel them on an individual basis, but not as a couple due to his religious beliefs. Boyce, who is not a party to the lawsuit, said he would refer gay couples to fellow counselors who do not share his religious beliefs.
     A week later, Cash says, Perryman informed him that he was not allowed to continue interning at SMFI and that the organization would be removed from MSU’s approved site list until certain “ethical” concerns were addressed.
     Cash says Perryman questioned him closely on whether he would counsel gay couples. Cash said he would counsel them individually but not as a couple due to his religious beliefs. Cash said he would refer them to other counselors who do not hold his beliefs.
     “Plaintiff stated that his approach to counseling is centered on his core beliefs, values and Christian worldview and these would not be congruent with the likely values and needs of a gay couple, who, for these reasons, would be best served by a counselor sharing their core value system and core beliefs,” the complaint states.
     “Dr. Perryman then told plaintiff that he could not hold these views, which she deemed to be unethical, and which, she asserted, contradicted the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics as discriminatory toward gay persons.”
     Perryman initially allowed Cash to seek a new internship site and extended the deadline for completing his degree.
     “However, she then required him to read and comment on an article titled, ‘Implications for Refusing to Counseling Homosexual Relationships,’ as a condition for determining whether he was suitable to return to an internship.
     “Dr. Perryman told plaintiff that based upon her review and approval of that paper, she would allow him to continue with internship. She said in that email that she wanted to see what plaintiff ‘had learned from this experience.'”
     Cash said Perryman was satisfied with his essay and allowed him to continue, but became upset with him when he turned in his application for a new internship because it disregarded her earlier directive that none of the hours he logged at SMFI could be counted.
     Cash says the defendants formed a panel to determine whether he would be dismissed from the program.
     “Defendants constructed a Remediation Plan for plaintiff which required him to attend 10 sessions of counseling to address countertransference issues, to audit two courses he had already passed with an ‘A’ grade, to participate in a few supervised sessions of practicum, and then to complete a self-assessment which would be reviewed by the committee before deciding whether plaintiff could re-enter a clinical internship,” the complaint states.
     “The committee confirmed that all face-to-face hours he had completed at SMFI (51 of the required 240 clinical hours) were invalidated and disallowed.”
     Cash appealed the disallowed hours all the way to the provost’s office; all the appeals were denied.
     “In each response to plaintiff’s appeals, no evidence was produced that plaintiff had any dispositional, academic, personal or professional concerns, including advising notes, formal or informal complaints, nothing in his student file, and nothing that was of any concern while he was advancing and being promoted through the counseling program at MSU and when he had completed over a 1/2 semester of internship and before he was removed from internship,” the complaint states.
     In November 2014, Cash says, he was called into a meeting with the department head and the Dean of the College of Education, where he was told he was being dismissed from the program. Cash had a 3.81 grade point average and a clean record.
     “Plaintiff’s experience at MSU has been devastating, crushing, and tormenting, culminating in his termination from the program — all because he interned with a Christian organization and expressed his religious beliefs on a hypothetical question about counseling a gay couple on relationship issues,” the complaint states.
     “Plaintiff was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple. Since he did not give the ‘correct’ answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program.”
     Cash claims that now he is unable to be a counselor and suffers daily emotional grief, pain and anxiety.
     He seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction ordering the defendants to reinstate him into the MSU Counseling Program with safeguards so he can earn his degree. He also seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations.
     Cash’s attorney Daniel Brooks with Cox & Associates in Sedalia declined comment.
     MSU general counsel Rachael M. Dockery responded to a request for comment with an emailed statement.
     “Missouri University has not received a copy of the petition in this matter, and does not comment on pending litigation,” the statement said. “That being said, the University strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class.”

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