Missouri State Sued for Dismissing Counseling Student Who Vowed Not to Counsel Gay Couples

In a story making national headlines, from Think Progress to The Daily Beast, a former counseling student is suing Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, for violating his freedom of religion and expression. Andrew Cash was dismissed from Missouri State’s counseling program after he refused to abide by the terms set by the university for his remedial work, which addressed his determination not to counsel gay couples.

Cash had interned at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian organization, and earned 51 hours of experience when in 2011 Missouri State discovered that SMFI, while offering counseling to individual homosexual patients, refused marriage counseling for gay couples. During this revelation, it was further made known that Cash agreed with this stance and intended to follow it in his professional practice.

Refusing to counsel gay couples is a direct violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which Missouri State is required to abide by to keep its accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Missouri State required Cash to go through a remedial process to address his stance (according to The Daily Beast, including classes he already took and a self-assessment), and removed SMFI as an approved internship site, saying Cash’s 51 hours there would not apply to his degree. He appealed this latter measure for two years, but by late 2014 the Missouri State counseling department had had enough and, believing Cash unfit for the profession, removed him from the program.

Cash’s lawsuit says his “experience at MSU has been devastating, crushing, and tormenting,” a “living nightmare,” and that he was “targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview.” He has “lost countless hours of sleep, and lives with gut-wrenching thoughts and fears about his future and ability to enter the counseling profession, and experiences of emotional grief, anxiety and panic, each day…”

Similar lawsuits at Eastern Michigan University and Augusta State University failed. Courts ruled universities have the right to ensure students abide by the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics.

The Springfield News-Leader writes,

It’s not the first time religious freedom has been cited in a lawsuit against MSU. Emily Brooker sued the university in 2006, accusing the school and a faculty member of violating her First Amendment rights when she refused to sign a letter supporting same-sex adoption. Brooker was a student in the School of Social Work.

Brooker alleged in her lawsuit that faculty members interrogated her for over two hours and asked her questions such as: “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?” Brooker made national headlines before reaching a settlement with the university.

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