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Religious freedom vs Academic accreditation

Julea Ward is suing EMU for being expelled from the school's master's program in counseling.
(courtesy of the Alliance Defense Fund)
Julea Ward is suing EMU for being expelled from the school's master's program in counseling.

 State lawmakers heard testimony today on legislation that would protect college students whose religious beliefs conflict with their university’s curriculum.    There are concerns the bill might cause problems for university accreditation.

The bill stems from a former Eastern Michigan University counseling student who refused to treat a patient about his homosexual relationship.   The student said counseling someone on that topic violated her ‘biblical’ beliefs.  She was expelled from the program.     She is now suing the university.

Legislation before the state House Education committee would protect students from being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.

But representatives of national psychological and social work associations say the religious exemption could jeopardize their ability to train students as professionals.

Judith Kovach is with the Michigan Psychological Association.  She says the restriction could lead to a loss of accreditation for Michigan schools.

“Both associations have indicated very clearly that this would put colleges and universities out of compliance with accreditation standards…and they would probably lose their accreditation," says Kovach.

Attorney Jeremy Tadesco represents the student suing EMU.   He says suggestions that the proposed law could cost Michigan universities their accreditation is a distraction.

“I think it’s a red herring that sounds good when you say it but there’s no credence to it.  The accreditation standards just require you teach about the ‘code of ethics’," says Tadesco.

The state House Education committee has not set a date for a vote on the bill. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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