Free to Believe

Jennifer Keeton

Augusta State University: Augusta, Georgia

In 2010, Jennifer Keeton, a graduate student in Augusta State University’s counseling program, was told that her Christian beliefs were unethical and incompatible with the pursuit of a counseling degree. In class papers and in private conversation with other students, Keeton had expressed her belief that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. When she did so, Augusta State ordered Keeton to participate in a remediation plan—with required attendance at a minimum of three diversity workshops, more exposure to gay populations (including a recommendation that she consider attending a gay pride parade in Augusta), and outside reading and writing about gays and reflection about how these experiences might benefit future clients.

Keeton initially agreed to the remediation plan; then, she had second thoughts. In video provided by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, then, the Alliance Defense Fund), Keeton said, "[w]hile I want to stay in the school counseling program, I know that I can't honestly complete the remediation program knowing that I would have to alter my beliefs. I'm not willing to—and I know I can't—change my biblical views."

With the help of ADF lawyers, Keeton filed suit in Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley. ADF Senior Council David French made the following statement: “A public university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being a Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform[.]” French continued, “[a]bandoning one’s own religious beliefs should not be a precondition at a public university for obtaining a degree. This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop. Jennifer’s only crime was to have the beliefs that she does.”

In December 2011, a federal appeals court upheld the right of Augusta State University to enforce standards of its counseling graduate program—even if those standards force a Christian student to choose between her faith and a degree.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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