Schuette Defends Constitutionally-Protected Religious Freedoms on Campus

Contact: John Sellek or Joy Yearout 517-373-8060

March 11,  2011

LANSING - Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced his office has filed an amicus brief in support of Julea Ward, a former Eastern Michigan University student who is suing the university in federal court for violating her constitutional rights after she was dismissed from a graduate counseling program due to her religious beliefs.  

"The religious freedoms enshrined in our Constitution do not evaporate when you step on campus," said Schuette.  "Unless these freedoms are vigorously defended, it sets a dangerous precedent that threatens education for all students of faith.  We must strongly defend and protect the rights of any citizen to ensure the rights of all citizens."

Julea Ward was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University's graduate counseling program on March 12, 2009, after she inquired about appropriate referral practices in cases where the counselor's religious values and beliefs are in conflict with the client's views.  In response to her request, the university enacted formal disciplinary proceedings.  At the subsequent disciplinary hearing, Ward's religious beliefs were questioned and criticized by university officials. 

Ward was ultimately dismissed from the program under the justification that she had allegedly violated the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice when she requested guidance about referring a client to a different counselor.  Ward was expelled even though the university had previously allowed students to make referrals without being subject to disciplinary action. 

In April 2009, Ward filed suit in U.S. District Court against the university asking for reinstatement to the program, claiming the university engaged in religious discrimination in violation of the 1st and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.  Ward has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, asking for a reversal of the district court's grant of summary judgment for the university or reconsideration of her case. 

In the brief filed today, Schuette defends Ward's religious freedoms, arguing that both the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics and Eastern Michigan University's own counseling textbooks allow for referrals by counselors.  Schuette argues that Ward should not have been denied the opportunity to make a referral and that her dismissal from the program may have violated her constitutional rights.  

Schuette's brief was filed today in the case Julea Ward v. Roy Wilbanks, et al.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is expected to set a date for oral argument later this year.

To view a copy of the brief click on this link