The Scandal Goes On

Ashley Thorne

The evidence continues to mount that the helping professions are hostile to those with certain beliefs. Social work and counseling programs produce case after case of bias against libertarians, conservatives, and Christians—anyone who does not conform to the progressive politics espoused by these disciplines. 

Three years ago NAS published a report, The Scandal of Social Work Education (pdf), which found that a national accrediting agency for U.S. schools of social work required future social workers “to pursue policies, services, and resources through advocacy and social or political actions [italics added] that promote social and economic justice.” Social justice, NAS noted, is generally interpreted as advocacy of more egalitarian access to income through state-sponsored redistribution. The report included case histories of three social work students at three different schools.  

Emily Brooker, a student at Missouri State University, was given an assignment to sign a letter petitioning the Missouri legislature for homosexual adoption, an assignment she objected to on the basis of her Christian beliefs. After she told the professor of her objections, she was subjected to a long hearing in which she was reproached for her “discriminatory conduct” and threatened with expulsion. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) documented Brooker’s case in this video. 

Bill Felkner’s grades suffered when he wrote against instead of in favor of a social welfare bill while attending the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. A conservative, he found he could not in good conscience support the bill. See my article ““The ‘I-Revel-in-My-Biases’ School of Social Work” for Felkner’s full story.   

Sandra Fuiten felt compelled to leave the social work program at the University of Illinois after a professor told her that it was impossible to be both a social worker and an opponent of abortion. “I would have had to deny my political beliefs and moral intelligence just to get a passing grade in this class,” she said.  

Last year, NAS wrote about Julea Ward, who was kicked out of Eastern Michigan University counseling program just four months away from graduation. Based on her Christian beliefs, she had declined to affirm homosexuality as morally acceptable and had offered to refer a homosexual client to another counselor. The university pursued remediation procedures and sought to change Ward’s beliefs before dismissing her from the program. The Alliance Defense Fund documented Ward’s case in this video.  

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) successfully resolved Emily Brooker’s case and is currently representing Julea Ward. This week, ADF filed yet another lawsuit against Augusta State University in an all-too familiar scenario: Jennifer Keeton “has been told to stop sharing her beliefs with others and that she must change her beliefs in order to graduate from the counseling program.”   

After learning that Keeton believes homosexuality is a choice, not a “state of being,” the university told her to attend “diversity sensitivity” training and attend a gay pride parade. Faculty members threatened Keeton with expulsion if she did not comply with the remediation program. In this video, Keeton tells her story in her own words.

The Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of this case elicited a firestorm of comments and controversy. One commenter who self-identifies as a gay person writes that the university was wrong to dismiss Keeton on the basis of her beliefs, not her actions. Others compare Keeton’s beliefs to those of Holocaust-deniers, flat-earthers, and Creationists.  

The common factor in cases like this seems to be the idea that certain professions come with certain belief systems. As the ADF press release states, the university labeled Keeton’s beliefs as “unethical and incompatible with the prevailing views of the counseling profession.” 

That sounds a lot like what a social work professor told Bill Felkner: that the school “is a perspective school and we teach that perspective,” and that “if you're going to lobby on that bill, you're going to lobby in our perspective.” The professor later said that the social work school taught from a “progressive social change perspective.” Basically what this means is, “if you don’t embrace our politics, you’re not welcome in this field.” This posture has wide-ranging consequences. It seeks to bar a whole population of qualified counselors and social workers from entering the field.  

When Felkner questioned the in-class showing of the Bush-bashing Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11, the professor replied that "as a profession we do take sides," and that social work is a "value-based profession that clearly articulates a socio-political ideology about how the world works and how the world should be." The professor closed his email saying: 

I revel in my biases. So, I think that anyone who consistently holds antithetical views to those that are espoused by the profession might ask themselves whether social work is the profession for them…or similarly, if one finds the views in the curriculum at RIC SSW [Rhode Island College School of Social Work] antithetical to those they hold closely, then this particular school might not be a good fit for them. 

Now Augusta State University is reveling in its biases. The idea that “as a profession we do take sides” has another consequence: it effectively silences dissenting voices. If a student has a disfavored view, he should keep it to himself at all costs. Is this what the university should look like – a closed-minded place that stifles opinion and repudiates debate? 

The Alliance Defense Fund is to be commended for taking up the cause of these marginalized students. But how many more must be marginalized before the helping professions stop hurting its helpers-in-training? 

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