Jennfier Keeton: Playing the Christ Card

Jennifer Keeton was until recently a graduate student in counseling at Augusta State University in Georgia. About 18 months ago, she sued the University, saying that it had violated her rights to free speech and the free exercise of her Christian faith. 

Among other things, Keeton claimed University officials had told her that, in order to stay in the University's school counseling program, she would have to change her beliefs about homosexuality.  According to Court documents (.pdf pp.5-6):
[Keeton] holds several beliefs about homosexuality that she views as arising from her Christian faith. She believes that “sexual behavior is the result of personal choice for which individuals are accountable, not inevitable deterministic forces; that gender is fixed and binary (i.e., male or female), not a social construct
or personal choice subject to individual change; and that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle,’ not a ‘state of being.’” ASU’s officials became aware that Keeton held these beliefs when she expressed to professors in class and fellow classmates in and out of class that she believed that the GLBTQ population suffers from identity confusion, and that she intended to attempt to convert students from being homosexual to heterosexual. Keeton also said that it would be difficult for her to work with GLBTQ clients and to separate her views about homosexuality from her clients’ views. Further, in answering a hypothetical posed by a faculty member, Keeton responded that as a high school counselor confronted by a sophomore student in crisis, questioning his sexual orientation, she would tell the student that it was not okay to be gay. Similarly, Keeton told a fellow classmate that, if a client discloses that he is gay, it was her intention to tell the client that his behavior is morally wrong and then try to change the client’s behavior, and if she were unable to help the client change his behavior, she would refer him to someone practicing conversion therapy.
In Keeton's view, the University was asking her to change her beliefs, and thus violating both her right to free speech and her right to freely practice her religion.

As it happened, though, a three judge panel for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal found Keeton was mistaken to claim the University had asked her to change her beliefs.  Instead, the University had only asked her to adhere to a certain professional code of ethics.  

The school counseling program at Augusta State University is accredited by an organization with the exciting name of,  "The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)"  As part of the accreditation deal, the University agreed to teach its counseling students to professionally conduct themselves according to the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics.  The Code includes ethical principles such as (.pdf pp. 6-7):
“Counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants”
“Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.”

There are quite a few details to the case, but in effect, the University asked Jennifer Keeton to professionally conduct herself according to the ACA Code of Ethics and she refused to so.

Some years ago, I paid for my college room and board by working as a fire fighter.  I do not now recall that we ever -- even once -- asked someone about their sexual orientation before knocking down their fire or extracting them from their wrecked car.  More to the point: Had I decided back then that I would only provide my services to heterosexuals, I would have been (justifiably) fired. But the judges of the 11th Circuit said it best (.pdf pp. 30):
Every profession has its own ethical codes and dictates. When someone voluntarily chooses to enter a profession, he or she must comply with its rules and ethical requirements. Lawyers must present legal arguments on behalf of their clients, notwithstanding their personal views. Judges must apply the law, even when they disagree with it. So too counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.
Of course, what Keeton was attempting to do with her lawsuit should be transparent to anyone: She was trying to force the University to make her an exception to the rule that counseling students must be taught to professionally conduct themselves according to the ACA Code of Ethics.  In short, she was looking for preferential treatment.

In order to secure preferential treatment, she cynically tried to play the Christ Card. That is, she deceitfully tried to fob herself off as -- not some jerk seeking preferential treatment -- but someone wrongfully oppressed because she is a Christian.

Of course, some folks are now tripping over themselves in their rush to buy into Jennifer Keeton's notion of herself as a martyr.  Here is what they have been saying...

Ramona Hicks Willis thinks, "This is not a questions of ethics, it is a power play by the homosexuals. They want to destroy anyone that does not agree with their lifestyle. Plain and simple."

The Court's ruling in the case seems to have traumatized Diana Shugar, who is suddenly ready to give up on life: "God is not the god of this world; Satan is. Satan is the invisible god of this world. He is the author of its organization, its basic philosophies, its systems of government, business, society—yes, AND RELIGIONS! It's best to just tell people of the new upcoming world ruled by our Lord and Savior. This one is beyond redemption."

Michael Galvin fully agrees with Diana that requiring Jennifer Keeton to live up to a professional code of ethics is so traumatizing the end of the world must be near: "You are right. We cannot save this world and the people in it. God desires that none would perish, but they have rejected Him and His Gospel. The date it set, the orchestra is in tune, the curtain is soon to be lifted."

Adrienne Elizabeth Crawford cannot believe Keeton did anything wrong.  Apparently, she just doesn't get what the case was all about. Nevertheless, she's sure it has something to do with the way Christians are always being persecuted: "It’s just really sad that this woman is being reprimanded (so to speak) for her beliefs. We ALL have a right to our own beliefs. I don’t believe she did anything wrong. But we as Christians should not be surprised by this persecution. After all, we live in Satan’s world. He’s the Prince of this world but only temporarily."

Tolfe Lee Albert thinks working with gay kids is a lot like risking your life -- or at least your health (he's not sure which):  "What if the student had AIDS, or a very bad cold...would she not have the right to refuse that student? Where are HER rights. Another victory for the ACLU and loss of our personal rights and dignity."

Last, Jack Oliver thinks he knows the sacred duty of a true Christian: "As a christan [sic] she is bound to speak up against queres [sic]." 

Jennifer Keeton played the Christ Card by demanding special privileges for herself while shouting that she was being discriminated against.  Naturally -- inevitably -- some folks bought her story.  But it would be a mistake to assume -- simply because some Christians have uncritically bought Keeton's story -- that the majority of Christians in America agree with them, for there is no evidence that the majority do in fact agree with the poor fools among us.

(H/T: Chappie at An Apostate's Chapel)


  1. I don't get it. "Hey Jennifer- if you don't agree with a program's code of ethics, DON'T JOIN THE PROGRAM! HELLO! Go to some conservative Christian university, and then counsel folks who believe the same thing you do. Nothing stopping you."

  2. Poor, poor Christians...victims all.

  3. An excellent point, Garnet! There's nothing preventing Keeton from attending a Christian school.

  4. Although that's surely not how most Christians feel about themselves, Michelle, it most certainly is how some -- a lot -- feel. I think you said it so well!

  5. Washington State is facing the same dilemma with pharmacists who don't think they should have to sell the-day-after-pill (or apparently anything else that conflicts with their religious views). Unfortunately, the State Board seems pressured into agreeing with them.

  6. But, Garnet, Keeton probably thinks all schools are de facto Christian because America is a Christian nation.

  7. Loren, my answer to those pharmacists is, "Get over it. If you're a vegetarian, either don't accept a job in an abattoir, or learn to shut up and do your job."

    As a nursing home employee, I often saw people kept alive on machines for years after they had shown any awareness of their surroundings. In short, they were in persistent vegetative states. I disagreed with the families who decided on this course, but their decisions were none of my business. As an aide, my business was to provide good care to all my patients, regardless of their physical or mental conditions. If I had been a physician or nurse practitioner, my business would have consisted of ensuring that families had sound, scientific information to inform their decisions.

  8. Quakers can't be soldiers, at least not if they're the kind who believe in pacifism. Some career paths may be blocked by one's religious beliefs.

    Heck, now that I think about it, it's probably not a good idea for atheists to try to become priests, now is it?

    Personally, I'd say that's a reason to hold as few unfounded beliefs as possible, particularly if they are actually contradicted by the facts.

  9. This problem may be getting a higher profile. That is, that counselors of all types do their work in a very private setting. Unlike a medical doctor, there is no attending nurse who could expose unethical behavior. If she had not discussed these beliefs openly, this could have gone on for a long time, harming a lot of confused young people.

    Or, what if those colleagues hadn't said anything? It seems our court system is working, but for some that is long road, and by time a ruling comes, it can too little too late.

  10. Paul - good post. I'm glad my little post inspired you. The comment thread at the One News Now site could probably inspire several doctoral dissertations.

  11. I think it's hilarious that this woman is waving her Christianity around when so many people who identify as Christians are A-OK with people being queer. Heck, I have a friend locally who is a seminary student in one of the more traditional denominations AND is bisexual, and her pastoral mentor is a great big dyke. Since there is zippity zilch in the New Testament about queer people, this really seems to be a tangential issue.

  12. Lausten, that's an interesting point. One must wonder how often this sort of thing goes on undetected?

  13. Thanks, Chaplain! And thanks for the shout-out on your blog!

  14. I recently read, Sledpress, that the new President of Focus on the Family has conceded the Religious Right has lost the battle against gay marriage. In other words, more and more Christians are coming to believe that gays are a non-issue.

  15. The responses are great. Those of us who live in the civilized sections of the country forget that there are places where gays and atheists are deeply entrenched in their closets for fear of these loons, so the loons have no idea what an actual gay or atheist is like, let alone a gay atheist, holy crap!

    Midwest sports forums are priceless, too. They simply have no idea. Gays are fruits like Richard Simmons dripping with AIDS and every lesbian is like the oversexed hotties on Howard Stern. Naturally counseling gay kids would put your life at risk! Naturally it's all a choice to get attention.

    Anyway, glad to see liberal academia for once didn't give in.

  16. @Phillychief: That seems a good point about academia. Thanks for that!

  17. Cujo, I love your remark that atheists should not apply to be priests! That's pretty much the essence of this case.

  18. S.W. Atwell, I think you make an important point when you mention providing your patients with reliable information, then allowing them to decide. Presumably, that is exactly what Keeton would refuse to do!


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