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Appeals Court Rejects Christian Student’s Bid for Reversal of Her Expulsion

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling against a graduate student who had sought a court order preventing Augusta State University from expelling her from its school-counseling program.

The student, Jennifer Keeton, sued the Georgia university in July 2010, saying that it had violated her rights to free speech and the free exercise of her Christian faith when it told her that, in order to stay in the program, she would have to change her beliefs about homosexuality—that it is immoral, unnatural, and a “lifestyle choice” that can be reversed through “conversion therapy.”

But in an August 2010 ruling, a federal district court disagreed with Ms. Keeton, finding that the university had sought only to have her learn to not let her personal views affect the counseling she would provide to gay and lesbian clients, a part of the practical training in the school-counseling program.

In its ruling on Friday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, ruling that because Ms. Keeton was unlikely to prevail in her lawsuit, a court order for her at this stage was unwarranted.

The court noted that the requirements of the counseling program—needed for its continued accreditation and compliance with the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics—are similar to the rules for judges, who must apply laws even if they consider them erroneous.

“In seeking to evade the curricular requirement that she not impose her moral values on clients,” the court said, “Keeton is looking for preferential, not equal, treatment.”

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