Who Is Speaking At the WCF? Catholics for Choice Offers Bios

Jodi Jacobson

This week SIECUS is writing a series of live-blogs for Rewire from the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam. Catholics for Choice, also attending the conference, has developed the following set of bios on Catholic participants in the conference program.

This week SIECUS is writing a series of live-blogs for Rewire from the World
Congress of Families in Amsterdam.   The third of these posts can be found here. Catholics for Choice, also attending the conference, has developed the following set of bios on Catholic participants in the conference program.

From Catholics for Choice Opposition Watch Page:

Brief Biographies of Some of the Catholics Speaking at the World Congress of Families, Amsterdam, August 10-12

10 August 2009

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

L. Brent Bozell III, President and Founder of the Media Research Center

Mr. Bozell is a self-appointed conservative watchdog of anything he considers to be problematic in society. Before founding the Conservative News Service and the Media Research Center, which examines the media for alleged liberal bias, he ran the National Conservative Foundation project at the National Conservative Political Action Committee. In October 2006, Mr. Bozell founded the Culture and Media Institute (CMI), whose mission is to “thwart the efforts of the liberal media to subvert America’s culture, character, traditional moral values, and religious liberty.” He is also founder of the Parents Television Council, which seeks to highlight all that is wrong with television. He has taken very public and outspoken positions against President Barack Obama and other Democrats. His latest book, Whitewash: What the Media Won’t Tell You about Hillary Clinton, but Conservatives Will, was released in November of 2007. His previous book, Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media, was released in July of 2004, but its subtitled prediction failed to materialize. He recently joined other conservative Catholics in urging Obama to remove gay rights activist Harry Knox from the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, charging that Knox made anti-Catholic remarks. Mr. Bozell is regularly given a platform to express his views in conservative newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the New York Post and National Review. He is also a regular on conservative news programs including Fox & Friends, Hannity & Colmes and The O’Reilly Factor, as well as Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

Rene Bullecer, Director of Human Life International, Philippines

Dr.
Rene Bullecer has been a cheerleader for the Catholic hierarchy in its
campaigns against several reforms in Congress, including those which
support family planning, divorce and lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender (LGBT) rights. Dr. Bullecer said that if the bills are
approved, they would “lead to premarital sex and widespread abortion
among women, particularly those with unwanted pregnancies.” Dr.
Bullecer has threatened to conduct a mass boycott against paying taxes
in an attempt to protest the passage of the Reproductive Health Care
Bill, claiming that it is “anti-life, anti-health, anti-family and
anti-Christ.” Dr. Bullecer also claimed that “Catholics are open to sex
education as long as it is based on the practice of the Church centered
on chastity.”

 

Archbishop Willem Jacobus "Wim" Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands

Archbishop
Wim Eijk has a medical background, and has completed academic
dissertations on euthanasia and “genetic manipulation.” He is known as
a conservative, with extreme views against abortion and homosexuality.
He has the ear of the pope, as Benedict appointed him to the the
Congregation for the Clergy in addition to his duties as Archbishop of
Utrecht. He has described homosexuality as “a neurotic development
disorder” and said that all homosexuals, no matter what religion they
are, “need pastoral care.”

 

Babette Francis, Founder, Endeavour Forum, Australia

The
Endeavour Forum describes itself as a “pro-family, pro-life NGO” which
was set up to “counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional
family.” Ms. Francis has claimed that “a feminist is an evolutionary
anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley.” In October 1995 she was invited
by the Pontifical Council for the Family to chair the English language
group’s discussions at the Third World Congress of Pro-Life Movements
held in Rome. She has attended numerous UN Conferences on Women,
Population, Habitat and Food. She is opposed to working mothers,
insisting that while “more exercise and a healthy diet is important” in
combating obesity, “a significant factor has been overlooked: the role
of mothers.”

 

Marie Claire Hernandez, President, Family and Society, Mexico

Ms.
Hernandez is a founding member of the conservative Catholic
organization Family & Society, and a member of the board of Red
Familia (Family Network) in Mexico. She is on the planning committee
for the World Congress of Families. Ms. Hernandez has been a conference
speaker on education and sexuality for the past 15 years and has
recently started a campaign against online pornography.

 

Ewa Kowaleska, Director, Human Life International Europe

In
addition to her position as director of HLI Europe, Ms. Kowaleska is
president of the Forum of Polish Women and a board member of the Polish
Association of Natural Family Planning Teachers. She has participated
in the UN meetings in Copenhagen, Beijing, Istanbul and Rome. She also
led an online campaign to send a message of support to the pope after
his statements against condoms during his recent visit to Africa. 

 

Gwen Landolt, National Vice President, REAL Women of Canada

Gwen
Landolt is a lawyer, long-time prolife activist and a co-founder of
Toronto Right to Life, the Coalition for Life and REAL Women of Canada.
She opposes all abortion, even for victims of incest and rape. She has
claimed that the winners of the prestigious Order of Canada are “mostly
left-wing feminists, homosexuals and environmentalists.” REAL
(Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) Women works “to defend the dignity
of women, as well as the sanctity of life, marriage and family.” She
believes that the most important of her work is being a wife and
mother.


Katarzyna Mazela, Vice President, Forum of Polish Women

Before
her appointment to her current position, Ms. Mazela was director of the
Department of Family Affairs in the Polish prime minister’s office and
the lead organizer in Poland for the World Congress of Families IV. She
attended several UN meetings as a member of the Polish government
delegation and spoke on behalf of the Government, stressing the
“crucial role of the family…[and] marriage as a union of a woman and
man; parental rights to decide about the upbringing of their children,
and also the protection of life from conception to natural death.”  At
the June 2000 Beijing+5 meeting in New York, she was part of the Polish
delegation that caused controversy because it opposed the use of terms
such as reproductive rights.

Janet Morana, Executive Director, Priests for Life


Ms. Morana is the executive director of the ultraconservative Priests for Life (Read more about Priests for Life)
and a founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a campaign that
encourages women who regret their abortion and men who opposed the
decision by a partner or former partner to have an abortion to publicly
support the campaign to outlaw abortions. She has been involved in the
antiabortion campaigns since the late 1980s. Morana has recounted being
caused to “sob uncontrollably” by a video that convinced her that her
past use of ordinary birth control pills had “destroyed an unknown
number of children.” 

 

Steve Mosher, President, Population Research Institute

The
Population Research Institute (PRI), a militant anti-family-planning
group based in Front Royal, Virginia, is funded by anticontraception
activist Father Paul Marx. Headed by Steven Mosher, who was expelled
from a Stanford University doctoral program in 1983 for violation of
research ethics in China, PRI says on its Web site that it is
“dedicated to stopping human rights abuses committed in the name of
family planning, and through research and education to dispelling the
myth of overpopulation.” His group played a significant role in
misleading the US government about coercive abortion in China, leading
to the defunding of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. Read more about the United Nations Population Fund in China.

 

Dr. Margaret Ogola, Kenyan Catholic Health Commission

Dr.
Ogola is a pediatrician based in Nairobi and the medical director of
Cottolengo Hospice, a hospice for HIV and AIDS orphans. She is also
Vice President of Family Life Counselling (Kenya). Previously, she was
the National Executive Secretary of the Commission for Health &
Family Life of the Kenya Episcopal Conference (1998-2002). In 1999, Dr.
Ogola was the recipient of the Familias Award for Humanitarian Service
at the World Congress of Families in Geneva, Switzerland. When she
accepted the award, she called for a return to the time when the power
to create life was treated as “a sacred obligation.” She claimed that
people believe that they can “get away with infidelity and premarital
sex” because of “value free education based entirely on how pregnancy
and disease could be avoided,” on “worldwide dissemination of a culture
of pleasure as the ultimate desirable good,” and on an “entirely
individualistic philosophy of me and I.”

 

Austin Ruse, President, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute

Austin
Ruse is the president of the once effective and innovative but now
almost-defunct Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. He has been
outspoken about his willingness to disrupt the workings of the United
Nations and boasted of his “veneer of support” for the UN and his
willingness to break “every single rule of UN lobbying.” Ruse has also
shown that he embraces extreme operating principles and lack of
cultural sensitivity in pursuit of his goals at the UN: “When we
finally convinced the Muslims that ‘forced pregnancy’ meant abortion
and they rose up and they squashed it. You know, our whole game is to
make the Muslims as mad as possible at the radical feminists. If that
happens, we win. Nothing like a Muslim in full-throated outrage at a
radical feminist from the United States.” Read more about the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

 

Bill Saunders, Family Research Council

William
L. Saunders, Jr. is senior counsel for Americans United for Life (AUL)
and senior fellow in bioethics and human rights counsel at the Family
Research Council. In fact, he is involved in some way with dozens of
antichoice groups. He is chairman for Religious Liberty for the
conservative legal organization the Federalist Society. In addition, he
is on the boards of the International Right to Life Federation, the
International Association of Catholic Bioethicists, the Christian
Institute on Disability and the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.
He served on the organizing committee for the conferences of the World
Congress of Families in Mexico City (2004), Warsaw (2007) and Amsterdam
(2009), and is a member of that organization’s Management Committee.
Mr. Saunders is regularly given a platform in the media to express his
ultraconservative views on bioethics, human rights, international law,
the family and Christian social responsibility in a series of
conservative journals including First Things, Human Events, Human Life Review, The Legal Times, Communio and Ethics & Medics. He is also a regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

 

Fr. Jaroslaw Szymczak, Institute for Studies of the Family, Warsaw

Fr.
Szymczak studied theology, philosophy and family studies and has a PhD
in theology on marriage and family from the Theology Faculty at the
Academy of Catholic Theology. He is a board member for family issues in
the conservative Catholic association Civitas Cristiana.

 

Francisco Tatad, Former Senator, Philippines

Francisco Sarmiento Tatad is a member of the ultraconservative Catholic
group Opus Dei, former senator and former Minister of Public
Information under Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. He is a member
of the International Board of the International Right to Life
Federation and the World Youth Alliance (Read more about the World Youth Alliance).
He spoke at two previous World Congress of Families meetings in Prague
and Geneva. He has a longstanding record of opposing family planning,
abortion and LGBT rights as well as supporting a traditional view of
the family. At one stage, he proposed a law that would require
parliamentarians to resign if they were found to have a mistress.   His
wife, Fenny Tatad, is the executive director of the Catholic Bishops
Conference of the Philippines’ Bishops-Legislators Caucus.

 

Msgr. Carlos Simón Vázquez, Deputy Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family


At
the opening of the Theological-Pastoral Congress of Mexico, Msgr.
Vázquez was asked to clarify a statement by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli,
president of the Pontifical Council for the Family on homosexuality. In
doing so, he said, inter alia: “Homosexuality is not a necessary
component of society, as is the family. Society is organized around the
relationship of the couple that is formed by a man and a woman. They
find each other in conjugal life and in family life. … The relationship
between two persons of the same sex is not the same as the relationship
of a couple that is based on the sexual difference. … Legislators make
an anthropological error when they want to socially organize
homosexuality. They run the risk of provoking an intellectual
confusion, as well as confusion of identity and relationships. It
should not be forgotten that confusion frequently favors insecurity,
unstable relationships and violence, when legislators don’t respect the
fundamental sense of human relationships. … Affirming that
homosexuality is a private fact, the president of the Pontifical
Council of the Family is not justifying it. The cardinal simply
underlined that homosexuality does not contribute favorably to the
organization of individuals and of society. The exercise of
homosexuality does not reflect the truth of friendship. Friendship is
inherent to the human condition in that it offers relationships of
proximity, help and cooperation, in a courteous and amiable climate.
Friendship should be lived chastely.”

 

Christine Vollmer, President, Latin American Alliance for the Family

In
addition to her work with the Latin American Alliance for the Family,
which was “established to help children learn to cherish themselves and
others,” Ms. Vollmer is a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for
Life and a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. She is
opposed to women working, claiming that “it is also a proven fact that
children brought up by their mothers have a better intelligence level
and health than those in day care.” She also claimed that “it is worth
any sacrifice for mothers to stay home until their children are in
school… This is an urgent need in order to preserve the family in the
future.”

Anna Záborská, Member of the European Parliament

A
senior member of Slovakia’s Christian Democrats (KDH), Dr. Zaborska has
publicly identified herself as a conservative. She is firmly opposed to
both abortion and LGBT rights. She is a prominent member of the Forum
of Life, an association of Slovak antichoice NGOs, organizations and
individuals. Dr. Zaborska has made several antigay comments, including
“AIDS is God’s vengeance for homosexuality” and “I don’t want to
discriminate against anyone, but with these people [homosexuals] there
is the potential chance that their outlook on life in basic family
matters, on male and female relations, could influence children.” Her
views on what a family should look like are no more progressive: “We
want to protect the traditional family based on the marriage of one man
and one woman. We voted on this basis in the National Parliament but we
want to proceed in the same way together with our partners in Europe,
in the European Parliament.” Read more about Anna Záborská.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

Analysis Law and Policy

Do Counselors-in-Training Have the Right to Discriminate Against LGBTQ People?

Greg Lipper

Doctors can't treat their patients with leeches; counselors can't impose their beliefs on patients or harm them using discredited methods. Whatever their views, medical professionals have to treat their clients competently.

Whether they’re bakers, florists, or government clerks, those claiming the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people have repeatedly sought to transform professional services into constitutionally protected religious speech. They have grabbed headlines for refusing, for example, to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to make cakes for same-sex couples’ weddings-all in the name of “religious freedom.”

A bit more quietly, however, a handful of counseling students at public universities have challenged their schools’ nondiscrimination and treatment requirements governing clinical placements. In some cases, they have sought a constitutional right to withhold treatment from LGBTQ clients; in others, they have argued for the right to directly impose their religious and anti-gay views on their clients.

There has been some state legislative maneuvering on this front: Tennessee, for instance, recently enacted a thinly veiled anti-LGBTQ measure that would allow counselors to deny service on account of their “sincerely held principles.” But when it comes to the federal Constitution, providing medical treatment—whether bypass surgery, root canal, or mental-health counseling—isn’t advocacy (religious or otherwise) protected by the First Amendment. Counselors are medical professionals; they are hired to help their clients, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation, and no matter the counselors’ beliefs. The government, moreover, may lawfully prevent counselors from harming their clients, and universities in particular have an interest, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, in preventing discrimination in school activities and in training their students to work with diverse populations.

The plaintiffs in these cases have nonetheless argued that their schools are unfairly and unconstitutionally targeting them for their religious beliefs. But these students are not being targeted, any more than are business owners who must comply with civil rights laws. Instead, their universities, informed by the rules of the American Counseling Association (ACA)—the leading organization of American professional counselors—merely ask that all students learn to treat diverse populations and to do so in accordance with the standard of care. These plaintiffs, as a result, have yet to win a constitutional right to discriminate against or impose anti-LGBTQ views on actual or prospective clients. But cases persist, and the possibility of conflicting court decisions looms.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley

The first major challenge to university counseling requirements came from Jennifer Keeton, who hoped to receive a master’s degree in school counseling from Augusta State University. As detailed in the 2011 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision considering her case, Keeton entered her professional training believing that (1) “sexual behavior is the result of personal choice for which individuals are accountable, not inevitable deterministic forces”; (2) “gender is fixed and binary (i.e., male or female), not a social construct or personal choice subject to individual change”; and “homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle,’ not a ‘state of being.'”

It wasn’t those views alone, however, that sunk her educational plans. The problem, rather, was that Keeton wanted to impose her views on her patients. Keeton had told both her classmates and professors about her clinical approach at a university-run clinic, and it wasn’t pretty:

  • She would try to change the sexual orientation of gay clients;
  • If she were counseling a sophomore student in crisis questioning his sexual orientation, she would respond by telling the student that it was not OK to be gay.
  • If a client disclosed that he was gay, she would tell him that his behavior was wrong and try to change it; if she were unsuccessful, she would refer the client to someone who practices “conversion therapy.”

Unsurprisingly, Keeton also told school officials that it would be difficult for her to work with LGBTQ clients.

Keeton’s approach to counseling not only would have flouted the university’s curricular guidelines, but also would have violated the ACA’s Code of Ethics.

Her conduct would have harmed her patients as well. As a school counselor, Keeton would inevitably have to counsel LGBTQ clients: 57 percent of LGBTQ students have sought help from a school professional and 42 percent have sought help from a school counselor. Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ adolescents; that’s twice or three times the suicide rate afflicting their heterosexual counterparts. And Keeton’s preferred approach to counseling LGBTQ students would harm them: LGBTQ students rejected by trusted authority figures are even more likely to attempt suicide, and anti-gay “conversion therapy” at best doesn’t work and at worst harms patients too.

Seeking to protect the university’s clinical patients and train her to be a licensed mental health professional, university officials asked Keeton to complete a remediation plan before she counseled students in her required clinical practicum. She refused; the university expelled her. In response, the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom sued on her behalf, claiming that the university violated her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

The courts disagreed. The trial court ruled against Keeton, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit unanimously upheld the trial court’s ruling. The 11th Circuit explained that Keeton was expelled not because of her religious beliefs, but rather because of her “own statements that she intended to impose her personal religious beliefs on clients and refer clients to conversion therapy, and her own admissions that it would be difficult for her to work with the GLBTQ population and separate her own views from those of the client.” It was Keeton, not the university, who could not separate her personal beliefs from the professional counseling that she provided: “[F]ar from compelling Keeton to profess a belief or change her own beliefs about the morality of homosexuality, [the university] instructs her not to express her personal beliefs regarding the client’s moral values.”

Keeton, in other words, crossed the line between beliefs and conduct. She may believe whatever she likes, but she may not ignore academic and professional requirements designed to protect her clients—especially when serving clients at a university-run clinic.

As the court explained, the First Amendment would not prohibit a medical school from requiring students to perform blood transfusions in their clinical placements, nor would it prohibit a law school from requiring extra ethics training for a student who “expressed an intent to indiscriminately disclose her client’s secrets or violate another of the state bar’s rules.” Doctors can’t treat their patients with leeches; counselors can’t impose their beliefs on patients or harm them using discredited methods. Whatever their views, medical professionals have to treat their clients competently.

Ward v. Polite

The Alliance Defending Freedom’s follow-up case, Ward v. Polite, sought to give counseling students the right to withhold service from LGBTQ patients and also to practice anti-gay “conversion therapy” on those patients. The case’s facts were a bit murkier, and this led the appeals court to send it to trial; as a result, the student ultimately extracted only a modest settlement from the university. But as in Keeton’s case, the court rejected in a 2012 decision the attempt to give counseling students the right to impose their religious views on their clients.

Julea Ward studied counseling at Eastern Michigan University; like Keeton, she was training to be a school counselor. When she reviewed the file for her third client in the required clinical practicum, she realized that he was seeking counseling about a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex. As the Court of Appeals recounted, Ward did not want to counsel the client about this topic, and asked her faculty supervisor “(1) whether she should meet with the client and refer him [to a different counselor] only if it became necessary—only if the counseling session required Ward to affirm the client’s same-sex relationship—or (2) whether the school should reassign the client from the outset.” Although her supervisor reassigned the client, it was the first time in 20 years that one of her students had made such a request. So Ward’s supervisor scheduled a meeting with her.

Then things went off the rails. Ward, explained the court, “reiterated her religious objection to affirming same-sex relationships.” She told university officials that while she had “no problem counseling gay and lesbian clients,” she would counsel them only if “the university did not require her to affirm their sexual orientation.” She also refused to counsel “heterosexual clients about extra-marital sex and adultery in a values-affirming way.” As for the professional rules governing counselors, Ward said, “who’s the [American Counseling Association] to tell me what to do. I answer to a higher power and I’m not selling out God.”

All this led the university to expel Ward, and she sued. She claimed that the university violated her free speech and free exercise rights, and that she had a constitutional right to withhold affirming therapy relating to any same-sex relationships or different-sex relationships outside of marriage. Like Keeton, Ward also argued that the First Amendment prohibited the university from requiring “gay-affirmative therapy” while prohibiting “reparative therapy.” After factual discovery, the trial court dismissed her case.

On appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Ward eked out a narrow and temporary win: The court held that the case should go to a jury. Because the university did not have a written policy prohibiting referrals, and based on a few troubling faculty statements during Ward’s review, the court ruled that a reasonable jury could potentially find that the university invoked a no-referrals policy “as a pretext for punishing Ward’s religious views and speech.” At the same time, the court recognized that a jury could view the facts less favorably to Ward and rule for the university.

And although the decision appeared to sympathize with Ward’s desire to withhold service from certain types of clients, the court flatly rejected Ward’s sweeping arguments that she had the right to stray from the school curriculum, refuse to counsel LGBTQ clients, or practice anti-gay “conversion therapy.” For one, it said, “Curriculum choices are a form of school speech, giving schools considerable flexibility in designing courses and policies and in enforcing them so long as they amount to reasonable means of furthering legitimate educational ends.” Thus, the problem was “not the adoption of this anti-discrimination policy, the existence of the practicum class or even the values-affirming message the school wants students to understand and practice.” On the contrary, the court emphasized “the [legal] latitude educational institutions—at any level—must have to further legitimate curricular objectives.”

Indeed, the university had good reason to require counseling students—especially those studying to be school counselors—to treat diverse populations. A school counselor who refuses to counsel anyone with regard to nonmarital, nonheterosexual relationships will struggle to find clients: Nearly four in five Americans have had sex by age 21; more than half have done so by the time they turn 18, while only 6 percent of women and 2 percent of men are married by that age.

In any event, withholding service from entire classes of people violates professional ethical rules even for nonschool counselors. Although the ACA permits client referrals in certain circumstances, the agency’s brief in Ward’s case emphasized that counselors may not refuse to treat entire groups. Ward, in sum, “violated the ACA Code of Ethics by refusing to counsel clients who may wish to discuss homosexual relationships, as well as others who fail to comport with her religious teachings, e.g., persons who engage in ‘fornication.'”

But Ward’s approach would have been unethical even if, in theory, she were permitted to withhold service from each and every client seeking counseling related to nonmarital sex (or even marital sex by same-sex couples). Because in many cases, the need for referral would arise well into the counseling relationship. And as the trial court explained, “a client may seek counseling for depression, or issues with their parents, and end up discussing a homosexual relationship.” No matter what the reason, mid-counseling referrals harm clients, and such referrals are even more harmful if they happen because the counselor disapproves of the client.

Fortunately, Ward did not win the sweeping right to harm her clients or otherwise upend professional counseling standards. Rather, the court explained that “the even-handed enforcement of a neutral policy”—such as the ACA’s ethical rules—”is likely to steer clear of the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-exercise protections.” (Full disclosure: I worked on an amicus brief in support of the university when at Americans United.)

Ward’s lawyers pretended that she won the case, but she ended up settling it for relatively little. She received only $75,000; and although the expulsion was removed from her record, she was not reinstated. Without a graduate counseling degree, she cannot become a licensed counselor.

Cash v. Hofherr

The latest anti-gay counseling salvo comes from Andrew Cash, whose April 2016 lawsuit against Missouri State University attempts to rely on yet murkier facts and could wind up, on appeal, in front of the more conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In addition to his range of constitutional claims (freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, equal protection of law), he has added a claim under the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The complaint describes Cash as “a Christian with sincerely-held beliefs”—as opposed to insincere ones, apparently—”on issues of morality.” Cash started his graduate counseling program at Missouri State University in September 2007. The program requires a clinical internship, which includes 240 hours of in-person client contact. Cash decided to do his clinical internship at Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, which appeared on the counseling department’s list of approved sites. Far from holding anti-Christian bias, Cash’s instructor agreed that his proposed class presentation on “Christian counseling and its unique approach and value to the Counseling profession” was an “excellent” idea.

But the presentation itself revealed that Cash intended to discriminate against LGBTQ patients. In response to a question during the presentation, the head of the Marriage and Family Institute stated that “he would counsel gay persons as individuals, but not as couples, because of his religious beliefs,” and that he would “refer the couple for counseling to other counselors he knew who did not share his religious views.” Because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates ACA guidelines, the university determined that Cash should not continue counseling at the Marriage and Family Institute and that it would be removed from the approved list of placements. Cash suggested, however, that he should be able to withhold treatment from same-sex couples.

All this took place in 2011. The complaint (both the original and amended versions) evades precisely what happened between 2012 and 2014, when Cash was finally expelled. You get the sense that Cash’s lawyers at the Thomas More Society are trying to yadda-yadda-yadda the most important facts of the case.

In any event, the complaint does acknowledge that when Cash applied for a new internship, he both ignored the university’s instructions that the previous hours were not supposed to count toward his requirement, and appeared to be “still very much defend[ing] his previous internship stating that there was nothing wrong with it”—thus suggesting that he would continue to refuse to counsel same-sex couples. He continued to defend his position in later meetings with school officials; by November 2014, the university removed him from the program.

Yet in challenging this expulsion, Cash’s complaint says that he was merely “expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple.”

That’s more than just a worldview, though. It also reflects his intent to discriminate against a class of people—in a manner that violates his program’s requirements and the ACA guidelines. Whether hypothetically or otherwise, Cash stated and reiterated that he would withhold treatment from same-sex couples. A law student who stated, as part of his clinic, that he would refuse to represent Christian clients would be announcing his intent to violate the rules of professional responsibility, and the law school could and would remove him from the school’s legal clinic. And they could and would do so even if a Christian client had yet to walk in the door.

But maybe this was just a big misunderstanding, and Cash would, in practice, be willing and able to counsel same-sex couples? Not so, said Cash’s lawyer from the Thomas More Society, speaking about the case to Christian news outlet WORLD: “I think Christians have to go on the offensive, or it’s going to be a situation like Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible, where you aren’t safe to have a guest in your home, with the demands of the gay mob.” Yikes.

Although Cash seems to want a maximalist decision allowing counselors and counseling students to withhold service from LGBTQ couples, it remains to be seen how the case will turn out. The complaint appears to elide two years’ worth of key facts in order to present Cash’s claims as sympathetically as possible; even if the trial court were to rule in favor of the university after more factual development, Cash would have the opportunity to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, one of the country’s most conservative federal appeals courts.

More generally, we’re still early in the legal battles over attempts to use religious freedom rights as grounds to discriminate; only a few courts across the country have weighed in. So no matter how extreme Cash or his lawyers may seem, it’s too early to count them out.

* * *

The cases brought by Keeton, Ward, and Cash not only attempt to undermine anti-discrimination policies. They also seek to change the nature of the counselor-client relationship. Current norms provide that a counselor is a professional who provides a service to a client. But the plaintiffs in these cases seem to think that counseling a patient is no different than lecturing a passerby in the town square, in that counseling a patient necessarily involves expressing the counselor’s personal and religious beliefs. Courts have thus far rejected these attempts to redefine the counselor-patient relationship, just as they have turned away attempts to challenge bans on “reparative therapy.”

The principles underlying the courts’ decisions protect more than just LGBTQ clients. As the 11th Circuit explained in Keeton, the university trains students to “be competent to work with all populations, and that all students not impose their personal religious values on their clients, whether, for instance, they believe that persons ought to be Christians rather than Muslims, Jews or atheists, or that homosexuality is moral or immoral.” Licensed professionals are supposed to help their clients, not treat them as prospective converts.