Missouri State University (MSU) is being sued for dismissing a student from its graduate degree program because he expressed reservations about counseling same-sex couples and therefore compromising his religious convictions.
Andrew Cash, who was pursuing a Masters of Science degree in Counseling, is being represented in his complaint against the Governors of MSU by the Thomas More Society. The legal group filed a civil rights claim with the Western District of Missouri Court this week over the university allegedly cutting off the student’s ability to complete the program and become a counselor.
“His suit claims that he was unable to complete his counseling curriculum, and is now prevented from working as a counselor, causing him daily emotional suffering,” the Thomas More Society stated in its press release announcing the lawsuit. “He is seeking for MSU to reinstate him in his counseling program with safeguards put in place so that he can successfully earn his degree.”
‘Tolerance,’ … or else
Back in September 2007, Cash started MSU’s counseling program, and he was consistently in excellent academic standing throughout his education there. However, when his uneasiness over counseling homosexual couples arouse in 2011 near the completion of his disagree, the university exhibited zero tolerance for students honoring their religious convictions regarding such matters.
Thomas More Society Executive Director Thomas Olp finds MSU’s dealing with Cash as hypocritical, especially since the university — like most others across the country — market themselves as “marketplaces of ideas.”
"Traditionally, universities have been places for free exchange of ideas and values — both religious and secular," Olp points out. “Unfortunately, Missouri State University departed from its mission by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash simply because he expressed — in an academic setting — sincerely held religious beliefs which his advisor deemed hostile to her own and therefore unacceptable.”
Also serving with the Thomas More Society as an attorney, Olp maintains that his legal expertise tells him that universities and other educational institutions should not preclude students from pursuing their careers because their worldview does not jive with campus politics.
“An educator should not permit her own ideology and agenda to ruin the educational opportunities of her students,” Olp continued. “We feel the responsibility, on Mr. Cash's behalf, to try to correct this."
What’s the surprise?
The nonprofit legal group focusing its legal work on life, family and religious liberty maintains that MSU knew fully well about Cash’s religious beliefs when his desire to serve as an intern with a Christian organization was brought before them.
“As a part of the degree program, students are required to complete clinical internship hours,” the Thomas More Society explained. “Cash started his internship in January 2011 with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI), which had been approved by MSU as an internship site. At least one other student in the M.S. in Counseling program had previously completed an internship there. The Institute is a Christian-based counseling agency, and MSU knew this when it approved Cash's internship in January 2011.”
Knowing about the Christian organization’s beliefs regrading counseling, MSU had little reason that Cash’s beliefs about counseling homosexual partners would be any different from the institute’s expressed biblical stance, according to the Chicago-based law firm.
“A class presentation was conducted at the Institute in order to inform students about Christian counseling,” the Thomas More Society informed. “The presentation was approved in advance by Cash's instructor. During the presentation, the Institute's chief counselor said that its Christian credentials and values were openly discussed with potential clients.”
When the potential issue of counseling same-sex couples was brought up by SMFI to avoid any future problems or conflicts in interest, a MSU faculty advisor quickly questioned Cash if he agreed with the Christian institute’s biblically based advice regarding handling such counseling situations.
“In answer to a hypothetical question, the counselor said that while the Institute would and does counsel individual gay persons on a variety of issues, it prefers to refer gay couples for relationship counseling to other counselors whose religious views would likely be a better fit,” the legal group continued. “Following the presentation, a student complained to Cash's faculty advisor about the statement, who peremptorily ordered Cash to her office, interrogated him as to his own views on the subject, and when he said he was sympathetic to them, she ordered him to forthwith cease attending the Institute, and immediately informed the Institute that it no longer would be considered an appropriate location for a school counseling internship given ‘ethical concerns’ that had arisen. MSU later stripped the hours from Cash's graduate record.”
Compromise not good enough
Despite Cash’s attempt to appease and with MSU’s administration to find another counseling institute with which to work as an intern, his university faculty advisor demanded that — as a condition of being reaccepted to a new internship — that he needed to show that he had learned his lesson from the whole ordeal so that he saw thing the school’s way.
“[Cash must prove that he] had learned something from the experience at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute,” reads documentation over the matter that was revealed by the Thomas More Society.
Even though Cash did all he could to show MSU that he would not oppose the university’s counseling policies regarding “gay” partners, he was still targeted for discrimination for his religious persuasion.
“Later, the same advisor wrote a letter to department officials claiming that it appeared to her, despite a total lack of evidence, that she suspected that Cash had not recanted from his earlier-stated religious views,” the pro-family law group pointed out. “She then made a recommendation, which was accepted, to force Cash into ‘remediation.’"
Regardless of Cash’s compliance with the school in the matter, MSU ultimately kicked the Christian student out of its graduate program, rendering him powerless to pursue his degree at the university and begin his counseling career in which he invested years of his life.
“A year later, in November 2014, the University expelled Cash from the counseling program, and his appeals fell on deaf ears,” Thomas More Society attorneys announced. “Cash was very close to graduating, but lost his ability to complete his degree by the expulsion.”