Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Missouri State University sued for denying student degree on religious grounds

The Thomas More Society Files Complaint in Defense of Civil and Religious Rights
This week, attorneys with the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, filed a federal civil rights action complaint against the Governors of Missouri State University on behalf of Andrew Cash. He was a student at the university who was dismissed from his M.S. in Counseling program after expressing concern over counseling same-sex couples due to his religious views. His suit claims that he is unable to be a counselor and suffers daily emotional grief and pain. He is also seeking MSU to reinstate him in his counseling with safeguards so that he can earn his degree.
Cash began the program at MSU in September 2007. He was a student in excellent standing and nearing the completion of his degree when the disagreement with the school arose in 2011 over counseling gay couples.
“Traditionally, universities have been places for freedom of thought, expression, and religion,” said Tom Olp, Executive Director and Attorney for the Thomas More Society. “Yet we see Missouri State University has betrayed long-held values of academic freedom by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash on the basis of his deeply-held religious beliefs. We are working to correct the denial to freedom of expression and freedom of religion he experienced at MSU.”
As a part of the degree program, students are required to complete a 600 hour clinical
Andrew Cash
internship, with 240 hours “face-to-face” with clients. Cash started his internship in January 2011 with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI). This organization was approved by MSU as an internship site, and at least one other student in the M.S. in Counseling program had previously completed an internship with them. They are a Christian based counseling agency.
After hosting a class presentation at SMFI on Christian counseling with the director of the center, it became known to his academic advisor that Cash would not counsel a gay couple in regards to their relationship, a view he shared with those at SMFI. He expressed that he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter – for instance, depression or anxiety – and would be glad to refer them to a counselor better fit to advise on same-sex relationship matters. Suddenly, the school determined SMFI was no longer considered an appropriate location for a school internship due to “ethical concerns.”
Although Cash worked with the administration to find a different internship, they made further demands on him to redo certain coursework he had previously completed. They determined that the 51 clinical hours completed at SMFI would not count towards the 240 face-to-face hours he needed to graduate. Despite numerous appeals to higher levels of the MSU administration, Cash was notified in November 2014 that he was being removed from the program.
Read the Complaint, filed in the Western District of Missouri Court, here.

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