Can She Be a Christian Counselor? July 28, 2010

Can She Be a Christian Counselor?

Jennifer Keeton wants to be a school counselor when she graduates from her grad school program at Augusta State University in Georgia. If a student ever tells her he’s gay, though, she’s going to tell him he’s living a life of sin and needs to be “cured.”

At least that’s what I can gather from the lawsuit she plans to file against the college.

Keeton claims that she has voiced her Christian beliefs inside and outside the classroom on homosexuality and other biblical teachings. ASU faculty has ordered her to undergo a remediation plan, which would include diversity sensitivity workshops, she says.

“While I want to stay in the school counseling program, I know that I can’t honestly complete the remediation plan knowing that I would have to alter my beliefs,” Keeton said in a video produced by the defense fund. “I’m not willing to, and I know I can’t change my biblical views.”

No one’s asking her to alter her beliefs. She just has to damn well keep them to herself if she’s counseling a student.

Just like Creationists could theoretically get jobs as public school science teachers as long as they taught evolution properly and didn’t bring up their faith.

Just like Christians could get jobs as pharmacists as long as they didn’t prevent a woman from obtaining her birth control.

If she can’t help but evangelize, she’s in the wrong line of work. She’s basically admitting she can’t counsel an atheist or Muslim or Hindu or gay or transgendered student properly. If she’s really desperate, then she can go to a Christian college and work at a Christian school.

Public schools need counselors who have the ability to help all students, not proselytize to them during their toughest hour. Who knows, it’s possible that Keeton could graduate without comprising her beliefs — you can be an effective counselor without agreeing with what your students do or believe — but she’s chosen to fight a losing battle.

If she can’t keep her beliefs to herself, I don’t know why any public school would want to hire her. She’s a walking lawsuit waiting to happen. She’s only shooting herself in the foot by threatening the university with this unnecessary lawsuit of her own.

***Update***: If you’re in a betting mood, YouWager “is allowing people to wage money and opinions on possible outcomes of the federal lawsuit Keeton filed against Augusta State last week.”

(Thanks to Meg for the link)

***Update***: There was a similar case going on at Eastern Michigan University with student Julea Ward.:

Last year Ward refused to treat a suicidal gay student, telling fellow counselors that her religious views prevented her from helping him feel better about himself.

Today, thankfully, a judge dismissed her case.

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  • Ah, yes, christian counseling–the occupation where you get to tell people in crisis that they’re going to hell.


  • AlWig

    I am definitely practicing my vice by betting on that. If I lose something is seriously wrong with this case…

  • Catinthewall

    If this lawsuit somehow wins, she’s going to kill kids.
    If it does win though, would the court also allow a religious exception for a sushi chef who won’t use shellfish, against a boss’s orders, or a designer who fires anyone who gets her blended cloths?

  • Mark

    If she tells an gay person that they are sick and need to be cured then she should be jailed for practicing medicine without a license.

    I have read the Bible and nowhere in that book does it say that followers of Christ are required (or even allowed) to try and “cure” anyone of their homosexuality. Thus, I believe that women like her are not Christians at all, just arrogant quacks that have made up their own rules so they can feel superior to everyone else.

  • Joel Wheeler

    “Public schools need counselors who have the ability to help all students, not proselytize to them during their toughest hour.”

    OH Hemant! Don’t you know by now? The toughest hour is precisely when the proselytizing is most necessary and “effective”!

  • Angel

    When I was in school, I wound up seeing a school counsellor after an event in my life. It was invaluable and it helped me cope with being “different”, especially in a small(er) city. If that counsellor had told me that people had every right to condemn me, I’m not so sure I would be here today.

    I would actively protest the appointment of this woman at ANY public school. If only for her own stated admission that she is incapable of doing the job.

  • She should drop the pretense that she should be a councilor and just go to seminary school and get a low paying job as a youth minister at an evangelical church. I’m sure she will agree that women should not be higher paid senior pastors because each of the 12 disciples had dicks between their legs.

  • helvetebrann

    While discussing this, I actually had someone tell me that I was letting my beliefs influence my decisions in that I wasn’t in support of “conversion therapy.” Yes, because not allowing a patient to seek something that is psychologically and physiologically harmful to a patient is letting my beliefs get the better of me. /sarcasm

  • helvetebrann

    If it does win though, would the court also allow a religious exception for a sushi chef who won’t use shellfish, against a boss’s orders, or a designer who fires anyone who gets her blended cloths?

    Bus drivers should be able to pick what stops to go to (

    Pharmacists should be able to NOT fill prescriptions (
    Etc. Etc. Etc. (I don’t believe any of the things posted above.)

    Allowing personal and religious beliefs to stop you from doing your job is WRONG.

  • I see nothing wrong with this woman becoming a counselor for a Christian school. However, counselors at public schools need to be able to provide counseling that is free from religious bias. If she can’t do that, then she shouldn’t be hired.

  • Steve

    Gay teens are four times as likely to commit suicide as straight ones. Allowing her anywhere near children or youth is just asking for her to contribute to a suicide eventually.

    In theory, I agree that she could just refer such a client to another counselor. But that’s not always possible. A school might have only one counselor or she might work in a more rural area where there isn’t even another school nearby. It’s just not practical.

    On the one hand, it’s good that her opinions were known and she could be stopped in time. But on the other hand, it’s somewhat disturbing that she even injected her beliefs into so many things. Why did she feel the need to bring it up so much in discussions and even papers? She should just have kept it private.

  • Hybrid

    “I’m not willing to, and I know I can’t change my Biblical views.”

    Witness a mind corrupted by dogma. Why aren’t you willing to change your mind, young lady? Do you actually think it makes you a better person to hold unchanging views? Do you think that would really be pleasing to any god? Do you have any idea where mankind would be if people didn’t change their mind appropriately when new evidence is given? When you utter such abject foolishness you demonstrate just how badly your family, your parents, your church, your friends, and OUR schools have failed.

    What a shame, what a loss. It’s so ironic that Christians like this think they’re the “saved” ones. They can’t even see their own prison.

  • Ward refused to treat a suicidal gay student, telling fellow counselors that her religious views prevented her from helping him feel better about himself.

    Funny, I seem to remember there being a guy in the Bible who was big on helping people *not* suffer horribly. What was his name again?

  • Looks like the creature has an uphill battle.
    Another zombie here in Michigan lost her suit against Eastern Michigan University for the same thing.
    EDIT: Oops…see you already mentioned that, Hemant.

  • Sean

    Did anyone notice she has no ears? Maybe there is some kind of selection favoring fundies with reduced auditory function…

  • Richard Wade

    People with these heavy religious agendas or religious injunctions are not just incompetent as health care providers, they are a serious menace. People can die because of their inappropriate responses.

    If she’s really desperate, then she can go to a Christian college and work at a Christian school.

    …and there she’ll encounter sensitive and impressionable young people, some who are gay, some who have a mood disorder, some with a punitive parental background, some with a substance abuse problem, and some who are self-destructive, and if there’s one with all of those challenges all at once, she will run a big religious number on them, and they will die.

    She is not just incompetent, she is a menace.

  • None of the case against her had anything to do with being a school counselor…because she isn’t a school counselor. That’s a smokescreen. It doesn’t say exactly what she did to warrant the remediation plan except that she expressed her views. There must have been more going on then that. Perhaps we can’t see ASU’s side of the story, it probably doesn’t matter. She will probably get kicked out of program if the school feels she is not fit to be a counselor, but she will probably get a scholarship to a Christian school or have someone donate money for her to go. Then she will write a book about how oppressed she was.

  • helvetebrann

    It doesn’t say exactly what she did to warrant the remediation plan except that she expressed her views. There must have been more going on then that.

    Several of the other articles I’ve run across about this ordeal suggest that she stated that she was in favor of suggestion “conversion therapy” for any future gay patients she would have. As a result, the school put her on the remediation plan including sensitivity training. *She was supposed to attend a Gay Pride Parade and write about how this affected her beliefs.*

    Considering this is a program designed to create counselors, her acceptance, and even promotion of the so-called “conversion therapy” techniques meant that she was a viable threat to her future patients’ mental and physical well-being.

  • frank

    To say that she wouldn’t have to change her beleifs is simply not true. Given her beliefs about the way the world is, the most compassionate thing that she can do for a gay student is to “cure” him. Just like christian pharmacists with certain beliefs really cannot dispense birth control, and muslim cab drivers cannot carry any alcohol in their vehicles. The fact is that some religious beliefs do conflict with the practice of some professions. Not acknowledging that I think is a failure to understand the situation.

    The hypothetical creationist biology teacher is a good example. If that teacher teaches evolution, then he/she is a liar, and I will have no respect for him/her. That is a very clear example of a case where religious beliefs conflict with professional obligations.

    The question then is how do we in a pluralistic society deal with conflicts such as these. I for one have no problem saying that people should not be allowed to enter professions the obligations of which conflict with their religious beliefs. Muslims who aren’t willing to have alcohol in their vehicle should not be cab drivers, creationists should not be biology teachers, and this woman should not be a school councilor. The harm done by a person failing to fulfill their professional obligations is significant, and there are enough different careers available in this country that any given person should be able to find a good one which does not conflict with his/her religious beliefs. Several possible alternate professions for this woman have already been suggested in this thread.

  • “I can’t change my biblical views.”

    And yet she fully expects her clients to be able to change their sexual orientation which is far less maleable than religious beliefs. Anyone want to bet she ends up working for Focus on the Family or NOM?

  • SickoftheUS

    Hemant wrote:

    …you can be an effective counselor without agreeing with what your students do or believe…

    Steve wrote:

    In theory, I agree that she could just refer such a client to another counselor. But that’s not always possible.

    Though this particular thing (homosexuality) has not been an issue in my life, I’ve had a lot of experience with counseling, and I don’t agree that a counselor with a bias like this can be effective. Life experience is fluid, and lots of events and thoughts can touch on a major aspect of human experience like homosexuality, even if the person isn’t gay. Everything approaching this aspect would be tainted in this woman’s eyes. Plus, there are a lot of outright gay clients out there that this woman could come into contact with – wasting all these people’s time and courage on dead-end counseling.

    Being flipped over to a different counselor doesn’t feel good, either, and I do know that from experience.

    Generally, I don’t think a counselor can be good if they hold any prejudices in the major race/gender/age/sex/health/religion/etc. areas of human social and individual life. Therapists have to accept that these are all real and common phenomena that have to be approached with compassion and respect for the client.

    And yes, even clients’ religious beliefs should be respected and not proselytized at, to the extent that they are interwoven into many people’s psyches and they make those people’s lives work well, to some extent. Religion is just another real, common facet of society and the people who comprise it. I do take comfort in knowing that my counselor now is also an atheist, though.

    All of this is a different situation than what a religious pharmacist, for example, finds herself in. Her interaction is largely black-and-white – dispense the pills to the patient and it’s done. If she does that, even if she’s a militant fundamentalist Christian, she can’t really harm the patient.

    In summary, the issue isn’t agreeing with a client, but being tolerant of and wise about realms of human experience.

  • Matt

    If you can’t fulfill the requirements of a job, FIND ANOTHER JOB!

  • Tim

    I’m not surprised that someone with “biblical views” like her would be intolerant of homosexual students; I just can’t believe she came right out and said that she would have to her biblical hate and bigotry if she ever met one. I hope that judge laughed at her before dismissing her case…when will these religious nutballs learn that they can’t do whatever the hell they please just because “it’s part of their religion?” If fundamentalist bigots like her want to be part of the rest of the world, they need to keep their religion to themselves. This is like a KKK member wanting to be a councilor after declaring how they would be forced to spew racism and hatred if they ever met a Jewish person or an African American. She doesn’t have to change her beliefs, she just have to keep them where they belong…in her bigoted church where she can talk all she wants about her “biblical views.”

  • Dan W

    Why would she want to become a school counselor if she won’t effectively counsel all kids? You can’t have it both ways. Either you can get over your damn bigoted views and counsel all kids equally or you should start working towards another job. I hope she loses this case.

  • charles

    Jennifer Keeton: “I’m not willing to, and I know I can’t change my biblical views.”

    Today on ebonmusings: “Human beings are stubborn creatures, set in our ways, resistant to changing our minds once we’ve made a decision.”


  • littlejohn

    It seems to me that no secular counselor – even an atheist – should allow his or her personal beliefs to affect the counselor’s advice.
    Psychiatry may be a soft science, or a relatively new science, or whatever – some psychologist is going to condemn me here, but what the hell – but I asssume the field is sufficiently developed that standard answers are available for the usual list of complaints.
    In other words, it ought to be possible to do the job in an utterly objective fashion.
    I don’t mean to offend anyone in this line of work, so please be gentle when you point out where I’m wrong. I really will listen.

  • Geek Gazette

    As a non-theist who is working towards a masters in counseling at a religious college (the only school in my area with the degree I want) I have to commend my school for their view on matters like this. Despite the fact that all of the professors I’ve encountered so far are evangelical ministers, they spend a great deal of time on ethics and legal matters.
    We are regularly reminded that a counselor can refer a client to another therapist if they do not feel they can help them. The reasons can range from lack of expertise in an area, personality conflict or even religious views. However, they also stress the point that doing this on a regular basis may get you in trouble as the licensing board does not care what your views are. If you always refer homosexuals to other therapist because of your religious views and that information gets out, you could get in trouble for discrimination. You may even face a lawsuit or the possibility of losing your license because such practice is not ethical. They highly recommend that you seek counseling before completion of the program so that you can learn to deal ethically with clients that may be “offensive” to you.
    In class I may have to keep from rolling my eyes when they do prayer requests at the beginning of class or hold my tongue when they talk about rational and irrational beliefs, then go on to talk about how not believing is irrational, but I can’t fault them when it comes to teaching about ethics.
    Seriously it really is hard to keep from laughing when they talk about how believing in something for which there is no evidence is rational and not believing is an irrational belief. But since I want this degree and don’t want to get kicked out of school I keep my mouth shut. I have to admit I often feel sorry for them. They really do seem like nice, intelligent people and I feel bad that they are all so delusional and they can’t see it. Sitting there listening to them say things that are, to me at least, completely ridiculous and yet they genuinely believe every bit of it, is pretty scary.
    I expect this type of behavior from uneducated people or people from rural areas, but not in a medium sized city. Maybe it is the future counselor in me, but I just want to set them down and try to help them all get over their delusional behavior. It kind of breaks my heart, knowing that there is likely no way I can get through to them. But I also understand that indoctrination into a certain behavior or belief, especially one that is not only socially accepted but expected, is far more powerful than anything I could ever say to them.
    Sorry I got off topic, but I think that the behavior of this woman is highly unethical and I can not believe that she has not been reprimanded. Surely there is a licensing board in her state as well.

  • Geek Gazette

    while my graduate work is in the area of counseling my undergrad was psychology, and you are correct. Psychology is a science but not an absolute science like some others. They may follow the scientific method and develop studies in the same manner as any other discipline, but their results aren’t as conclusive or observable as most of the other sciences.
    A lot of the results of psych studies, while obviously valid, are a little more open to interpretation. Also there may be multiple ways to reach the same results. All of it depends on different variables such as the interaction between the therapist and the client. Also the client’s illness/disorder, personality, views, beliefs and motivation can play a part in whether a particular method works.
    In regards to counselors and their views she isn’t a mental health counselor/therapist. A school counselors job is more about helping children achieve academic success as well as helping the school to create the best possible learning environment. They have some training in helping teachers deal with behavior problems, career advice or maybe even help parents deal with issues, but they are not qualified mental health counselors/therapists. Just as mental health counselors/therapists are not qualified to be school counselors. I don’t care what kind of counselors you are, you should not be judging someone who comes to your for help. As I said in my previous post, I’d like to help all the religious believers overcome their delusions, but that is not what I will be qualified to do. It would be unethical for me to to that. Once licensed I will have to do my best to help all clients regardless of their or my beliefs/views.

    If she kept her mouth shut or lied she could get licensed and go to work at a private religious school, but with her attitude she wouldn’t last in a public school. She would just make any place she worked the target of lawsuits.

    I found this on the American School Counselors Association website:
    “• Each person has the right to be respected, be treated with dignity and have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that advocates for and affirms all students from diverse populations regardless of ethnic/racial status, age, economic status, special needs, English as a second language or other language group, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity and appearance.”

    The professional school counselor:
    a. Affirms the diversity of students, staff and families.

    b. Expands and develops awareness of his/her own attitudes and beliefs affecting cultural values and biases and strives to attain cultural competence.

    c. Possesses knowledge and understanding about how oppression, racism, discrimination and stereotyping affects her/him personally and professionally.

    d. Acquires educational, consultation and training experiences to improve awareness, knowledge, skills and effectiveness in working with diverse populations: ethnic/racial status, age, economic status, special needs, ESL or ELL, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, family type, religious/spiritual identity and appearance.”

    Anyway you look at it she isn’t qualified to be a counselor.

  • Matthew

    There’s a certain type of Christian who actively seeks persecution because they believe it somehow links them with their forefathers who were tortured and murdered in the name of Christ. I’m sure the dismissal of her case was exactly what she wanted, because now she can be the victim of a secular assault on Christian values. She’ll garner all kinds of sympathy from the Pat Robertson crowd; some closeted gay Christian man will marry her as his cover; and she’ll probably write a book, or maybe get a gig with the 700 club.

  • I would add that any person not willing them self to be counseled should not be a counselor.

  • brent

    I don’t see what’s so hard about this.

    Plenty of the stuff that counselors have to listen to they don’t agree with. I remember my counselor once had to find out about how I use porn to deal with the lack of sex in my marriage – and she had to just say “Ok, this is interesting. Can you talk to me about it? Because I’ve always been brought up to believe it’s immoral to look at porn. I’d really like it if you could talk openly about it to me.”

  • brent

    @jeff – I understand this to be a required part of becoming a psychiatrist.

  • beckster

    I can see all other sorts of problems creeping up besides advising homosexual students because of her “biblical worldview.” What about the girl who needs to talk to someone about sex? Or the student who needs advice about dealing with an abusive parent? Will she be promoting her “biblical worldview” when they come for help too? Or is it just homosexuality that offends her “biblical worldview”?

  • What a quack. If she wins (which I doubt) then anybody can put their prejudices into their working life and claim religious exemption. That doesn’t seem like a good idea.

  • Geek Gazette

    @ Jeff P
    At my school it is strongly recommended that you get counseling before you even consider trying to be counseling. However, some schools require that you get counseling before you can graduate. They want to make sure that you are fit to be a counselor and that one day a client won’t come in with a problem that resonates with you. They don’t want professional therapists that suddenly realize that their client’s issue is also an issue that they have not dealt with.

  • She could work in a Christian school. Other than that, she’ll lose her license, law suit or no law suit. All it will take is a complaint to the state board. Usually. Every state has pretty different counseling rules.

    Should the school put her in remediation classes? I don’t think so. She hasn’t acted on it yet, so an ethical violation has not yet been made. It’s thought crime.

    @GreekGazette: I did that for a year and couldn’t take it anymore. I hated it from day one. Our classes were three hours long, and it was basically a 3 hour long Bible study with about 20 minutes of useful content thrown in. I don’t envy you.

  • Enrys


    She doesn’t want to interact with gays at all. She doesn’t want to get to know them. That’s ignorance and bigotry at its finest.

  • LeAnne

    What a dumb bitch. Like Laura said, she should teach in a Christian school, not a public school that gets paid for by public dollars and whatnot.

    If you’re going to go into the profession of counseling, you shouldn’t hold a grudge on ANYONE based on your ideals. Counselors are supposed to HELP, not turn people away.

  • Why would she want to become a school counselor if she won’t effectively counsel all kids? You can’t have it both ways. Either you can get over your damn bigoted views and counsel all kids equally or you should start working towards another job.

    I suspect a lot of crusading-type evangelicals specifically seek out these jobs (couseler, teacher, pharmacist)in order to use them as a platform to “spread the word.”

  • Jake

    People should be allowed to believe whatever they want. But if those same people want to join the rest of us in the real world, they need to play by the rules.

  • Aj

    Religions should not be respected or affirmed neither should “diversity” for that matter. I’ve heard a lot of disturbing things like this in the comments here and on the news, it’s ridiculous to criticize this Christian then turn around and demand that others comply with your values. If a counsellors job is to help people achieve the clients goals then that’s all that should matter. Counsellors should tolerate people and do their fucking job, and Jennifer Keeton doesn’t seem capable of that.

    It got me thinking of hypothetical cases that an atheist might have trouble with. For instance, what if a homosexual student who believed strongly that homosexual relations are a sin came asking for help. I’d be interested to know how counsellors should approach this.

  • Geek Gazette

    @ Laura
    So far my school has been pretty good about sticking with actual useful content. I have to hold my tongue when they say that being religious is rational and non-belief is irrational or when they do a prayer request at the beginning of class, but other than that I honestly can’t complain.
    I admit it feels sometimes almost like I’m a fake or that I’m hiding behind enemy lines, but I never make any claim that I believe what they say or participate in their religious activities. When the rest of the class gives a presentation they always include some religious reference, mine are completely devoid of anything relating to religion.
    Even though it may end up getting me removed from the program, I would never lie if asked about my views. But I’m also not gong to be a jerk and cause trouble on their turf. I’m there for the degree.

    @ Aj
    You are right, a counselor’s first and only job is to help the client. In the case of a school counselor they should put the needs of the student first. Their own personal views should not matter. If they do, you should do what is ethical and refer the client/student to someone better suited to their needs. Just don’t make a habit of doing this.

    As far as the homosexual student scenario. If it is a school counselor, since they are not qualified mental health counselors, they should refer the student to a counselor that is competent in that area. There is obviously some kind of distortion in their perceptions. If it is a mental health counselor/therapist, who will have to assess the individual to determine the reason/cause for their feelings/thoughts/behavior and help them find ways to correct that. Of course the methods used would differ depending on the type of counselor/therapist, and on whether those thoughts are the result of their own beliefs or maybe abuse. Assuming it comes from their religious views, I really don’t think it would be ethical to condemn their beliefs in an attempt to “help” them. The counselor’s job would be to try and help them accept/come to terms with their orientation. Whether the counselor is Atheist or Christian should never matter.
    Of course that is assuming the only problem is that they are a guilty about their orientation because of their religious beliefs.

  • bopfan

    depending on the state where she is licensed (assuming she goes for a license) it is possible that she could have her license revoked.

    Geek Gazette – I too earned my Masters in Counseling at a religious institution. Fairly liberal school, never encountered problems from the faculty. My fellow students? Well that would be another story…but those were the minority.

  • kmw

    This reminds me of the Pharmacist at Target who would not dispense the DAY AFTER pill to a customer, because it went against her beliefs.

    She’s paid to do a job of dispensing medicine, not judge. I’m not sure what happened with that case.

  • Brianne

    She never said she’d treat a gay/lesbian any different. Yes, she expressed her views with her peers in class which is freedom of speech, but not once did she say she’d tell a gay student that he was going to hell. The school needs to calm down. They have no right here.
    She shouldn’t have to change her views. They’re based off of the Bible. And we aren’t robotic enough to never have doubts. We do think about things and about how others think. But who’s to say that people who think homosexuality is okay aren’t the close minded ones?

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