Should Christians who oppose same-sex marriage based on religious beliefs be allowed to obtain degrees in counseling?
That's the question at the heart of a lawsuit filed in federal court by a former student at Missouri State University who claims he was kicked out of a master's program in counseling because of his religious beliefs.
Andrew Cash claims he was "targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling to a gay/homosexual couple."
MSU spokeswoman Suzanne Shaw told the News-Leader that the "university strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class." She would not comment on specifics of the case.
According to the lawsuit, Dr. Kristi Perryman, the counseling department's internship coordinator, confronted Cash about his views toward counseling gay people.
Cash told her he would counsel them individually on a variety of issues but not as a couple. He said he would refer them elsewhere.
Cash explained to Perryman 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 lawsuit states.
Perryman then told Cash 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."
"It made me angry," said attorney Tom Olp with the Thomas More Society—a law firm that specializes in religious liberty issues. "She took offense at his religious beliefs and then essentially kept dwelling on those until he was drummed out of the program."
Olp is suing Perryman and a host of other university officials—including Tamara Arthaud, the head of the counseling department and faculty member Angela Anderson.
"We have this very dangerous trend toward allowing the government to shut down religious expression," Olp told me. "That is contrary to the First Amendment. A democracy requires vibrant expression of various points of view and it really needs robust religious expression."
Cash's troubles began in the spring of 2011 when he began a university-approved internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian organization. It was during a classroom presentation that the director of the Christian group was asked about counseling gay persons.
A week later, Cash was informed he would no longer be allowed to intern at the institute. He was also grilled about his personal views regarding counseling homosexuals, the lawsuit states.
In 2014 Cash was just a few courses shy of graduating with a M.S. in Counseling. He had a 3.81 grade point average and was a student in good standing with the school.
Olp told me it's not the first time Christians have been thrown out of counseling program in public universities—citing cases in Michigan as well as Missouri.
"It's an extremely intolerant and almost puritanical approach and more and more prevalent in secular universities," he said.
Cash wants to be re-admitted to the program so he can finish his studies and obtain his degree.
That's the least the university can do for a man who has been targeted and bullied because of his Christian faith.
It's unfortunate that we live in a nation where one's faith in Christ is now considered a career-killer.
Todd Starnes is host of "Fox News & Commentary," heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is The Deplorables' Guide to Making America Great Again.
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