When we wrote the Manhattan Declaration last fall, we warned about “the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership.”
An example of this decline is on display currently in Georgia. Jennifer Keeton, who is a 24-year-old studying for a master’s degree in counseling at Augusta State University, has been threatened with expulsion. The grounds for the threatened expulsion are not poor grades or misconduct – they are Keeton’s beliefs.
Specifically, they are Keeton’s beliefs about the morality of homosexuality. In written assignments and classroom discussions, Keeton has said that people’s sexual conduct is “the result of accountable, personal choices,” and not “a state of being.”
These statements caused officials to question “her ability,” I’m quoting now, “to provide competent counseling to gay men and lesbians.” So they gave her a choice: participation in a re-education plan or expulsion.
That word “re-education” may bring to mind for you, as it does for me, what happened in Vietnam and in China after the Communists took over. And frankly, it should bring it to mind. Keeton would need to do remedial reading, complete with written assignments on how the reading affected her beliefs; she would also be required to “work,” and I’m quoting, “to increase [her] exposure and interactions with gay populations,” including but not limited to attendance at Gay Pride parades.
All that’s missing is working in the rice paddies.
Keeton’s case isn’t unique: last year, Eastern Michigan University dismissed a student from its graduate counseling program for refusing to “change her religious beliefs about homosexual behavior.” Like Keeton, Julea Ward was ordered to enter a “remediation” program designed to change her beliefs about same-sex relationships.
In both cases, there was no evidence their beliefs interfered with their ability to counsel others – the concerns were, at most, theoretical.
What’s more, homosexuals are a tiny minority of the people needing counseling services. Keeton and Ward could have spent decades counseling people without the issue ever coming up.
Yet, their beliefs about homosexuality have become the sole criterion by which their fitness to be counselors is being judged. The word for this: ideology.
In the Manhattan Declaration we pointed out that the trampling of religious liberty is being led by people who insist that there is some right to engage in immoral sexual practices. We also pointed out that “a growing body of case law” has chipped away at religious freedom. Again, these two cases act as confirmation: Julea Ward lost in a Federal District Court case. While her lawyers are hopeful of prevailing on appeal, it’s far from assured.
These cases and others like them are stark reminders of why we called the Manhattan Declaration a “call of Christian Conscience.” Contrary to what our enemies say, Christians aren’t out to impose their beliefs on anybody – it’s the other way around.
More and more, in order to participate in public life, Christians are being told to render to Caesar that which belongs to God. So please join us, that we might take a stand together, that this is something we will never do.