Court Says Company Was Right to Fire Anti-Gay Counselor February 10, 2012

Court Says Company Was Right to Fire Anti-Gay Counselor

An federal appeals court in Georgia recently affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case of Marcia Walden, a counselor employed by contract with the Centers for Disease Control, saying she did not have a valid free exercise claim against the CDC.

Marcia Walden

Back in 2007, Ms. Walden’s employer, C0mputer Sciences Corporation, (CSC) held a contract with the CDC under which it provided counseling services to CDC employees. The issue arose when a CDC employee who was in a long-term same-sex relationship came to Ms. Walden for counseling. During the intake session, the employee (referred to as “Jane Doe” in the opinion) told Ms. Walden about serious and emotionally disturbing issues in her relationship. In response, Ms. Walden told her that her “personal values” prevented her from effectively counseling Ms. Doe, and provided a referral. During that intake session, Ms. Walden never mentioned the source of those personal values, her Christian faith.

Ms. Doe then filed a complaint to Ms. Walden’s superiors, saying that she felt “judged and condemned” by what Ms. Walden had said.  Her immediate supervisor did not take issue with the referral itself. (And neither do I — I’d rather not have LGBT people in a patient/counselor relationship with someone like that).

The program supervisor, Doug Shelton, discussed the incident with Ms. Walden and told her that the implicit judgment in telling a patient that her “personal values” prevented her from counseling the patient was not acceptable.

Ms. Walden rejected suggestions that she give potential clients who are in same-sex relationships some other reason for her referral. At the trial court level, she insisted that

it seemed unfair that [Ms. Doe] was able to talk aboutbeing gay and lesbian, and yet I couldn’t freely talk about me and my religious beliefs, or being Christian . . . . To me, it’s about honesty.  If she can be honest – I mean, I should be honest about why I’m transferring her.

The court held that

undisputed facts inthe record show that Dr. Chosewood and Ms. Zerbe asked for Ms. Walden’s removal from the contract because of how she handled Ms. Doe’s referral and because they believed Ms. Walden would not alter her behavior in similar circumstances in the future, not because of her religious views or her need to refer clients for religious reasons.

Her superiors did not burden her religious exercise by instructing her not to tell patients that she disapproved of their sexuality. Ms. Walden never claimed that her religious beliefs required her to be honest with her patients about her values. (Which is ironic, since “don’t lie” is actually in there). Her sincere religious belief that she would be condoning same-sex relationships by counseling people who were involved in them was not burdened.

It appears that absolutely no one told her she had to counsel people in same-sex relationships, nor does it appear that she was penalized in any way for deciding to refer those patients to another counselor. I would give my opinion here about why it’s so reprehensible for a counselor to express judgment like that when someone comes to her in need, but Dr. Casey Chosewood, CDC’s Project Officer for Occupational Health and Preventive Services, says it beautifully:

There again, I feel like that statement has some — has some bias in it, it has some judgmental tone in it.  There are many people who believe that homosexuality is like eye color or color of skin, you know.  There’s good science that supports that, as well.  I would not be happy with her saying something like, you know, “My personal belief doesn’t allow me to see someone of your color.”  To me, that’s — it’s just not appropriate in that very vulnerable setting when patients are coming to you maybe at their neediest time. So I feel like a referral, perfectly fine.  And — but to share, to give any, really, sort of expression of judgment or of displeasure with someone else’s situation or choices or life, to me, is not — it does not further the therapeutic relationship in any way.

Because the court concluded that Ms. Walden was laid off (and given instructions how to get another job within the agency) for reasons separate from her free exercise rights, it dismissed her claim. Her attorneys are considering appealing the U.S. Supreme Court, saying “[a] counselor who is a Christian shouldn’t lose her job for upholding the highest professional standards.”

For a fact-selective recounting of the events that is heavy on martyrdom, but light on law, check out this video presentation by Family Research Council:

In spite of the fact that the court viewed all the facts in the light most favorable to Ms. Walden, it still dismissed her free exercise claims. She also made a claim against CSC.

Under the contract it held with the CDC to provide counseling services to the CDC employees, CSC was required to discharge an employee at the request of the CDC. It did as it was contractually obligated to do when it laid her off. In doing so, the court held that it did not substantially burden Ms. Walden’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The court further held that CSC didn’t violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it provided her with a reasonable accommodation when it offered to allow her to give a different reason for referral. And then again when it encouraged her to find alternate employment with the company. If she had done this within one year, she would even have kept her seniority.

Interestingly, the court relied on a very similar case, Bruff v. North Mississippi Health Services.

There, the court held that

the defendant hospital fulfilled its obligation to accommodate the plaintiff counselor’s religiously-based refusal toprovide same-sex relationship counseling when it gave her thirty days to find another position at the hospital and provided her with the assistance of its in-house employment counselor.

The rulings seem pretty reasonable to me. If the clients aren’t harmed by being referred out to another counselor, then everyone can be happy. Counselors don’t have to violate their religious beliefs that they can’t counsel LGBT people, and LGBT get a counselor that really has their best interests in mind. It’s entirely appropriate for a federal employer to terminate a counselor that it believes will use her position to pass judgment on people whose sexuality she disapproves of. I’m glad to see the courts standing up for that principle, especially when it’s founded in so much legal precedent.

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  • Anonymous

    Though I agree that it’s best that someone homophobic not counsel a GLBT person, and I further think that it’s appropriate to ask such individuals to refer elsewhere without giving their motivations, I do get an “Amish bus-driver” sense out of this.

    What if there are no other counselers? What if, in a given institution, an anti-Gay counseler is the only one on staff, or the institution ONLY has anti-gay counselers? Is the employer helpless to dismiss them in favor of someone able to accomodate ALL patients, instead of the ones deemed acceptable to a given person? In that case, would an LGBT person be simply declined service?

    I doubt that if the objection had been “I can’t counsel you because you’re black”, this would have even made it to court. However, this being deep red Georgia, they obviously don’t have non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people from this sort of thing.

  • Great news and excellent analysis, Carrie.  One minor quibble, though.   “Lifestyle” is a word the anti-gays use to demean gay people, implying it’s a choice and that the way we live is somehow vastly different (and less desirable) than that of “normal” society.  

  • Is there some reason these religious people can’t be tactful? All she had to say was that LGBT issues are outside her area of expertise, and that she didn’t feel qualified to counsel Ms. Doe. As a bonus, it would be completely true, since she isn’t.

  • Anonymous

     That’s why I’m extremely uncomfortable with such people as youth or school counselors. With adults you could argue that they have the means to go elsewhere. Sure, that’s not always the case either, but with teenagers it certainly never is.

  • ReginaldJooald

    Reprehensible. You’ve been hired a counselor. To provide counsel. Not to proselytize. How can she even attempt to defend this?

  • ReginaldJooald

    Good post.
    If I were a Catholic minister, but refused to minister because doing so violated my atheism, should I be protected? If I were a police officer, but refused to do anything to help anyone who didn’t share my beliefs because my religion said so, should I be protected? 

    She’s a *counselor*, she should be impartial in this sort of matter. If she’s not, she’s not suited for the position. It doesn’t matter if she’s not because of a religious belief or because of any other sort of belief.

  • That tactful way would be “I would like to refer you to someone who I believe is better able to help you with your needs.” 

    If LGBT issues are outside her area of expertise, she shouldn’t be working as a counselor.

  • I counseled thousands and thousands of people. Male, female, transgender, gay, straight, bisexual, poor, rich, educated, uneducated, intelligent, slow, beautiful, plain, those with criminal records, those with none, addicted, not addicted, atheists, agnostics, theists, deists, every religion, every race, every age, every political view, every occupation, born in the U.S., born elsewhere, citizens, non-citizens, those with disabilities, those without disabilities, those with severe problems, those with mild problems, on, and on, and on, every category that somebody else discriminates or negatively judges others by.

    I never had any difficulty holding all of them in high regard, and I gave every single  one of them my absolutely best effort for quality counseling.

    You’re a human being, therefore I treat you with the deepest respect.
    You’re in difficulty, anguish, or pain, therefore I treat you with the deepest compassion.
    My job, my human responsibility, and my personal joy is to help you find your own unique ways to live your life with health, happiness, full self expression, and for you to have the same effect on others.

    A person who cannot do all this easily has no business being a counselor. They should get some other job.

  • GeraardSpergen

    Replace “my personal values” with “my personal biases” and we’ll have a clearer understanding of the issue here.

  • “The rulings seem pretty reasonable to me. If the clients aren’t harmed by being referred out to another counselor, then everyone can be happy.”

    I’m gay, I make no secret of the fact, and some people find me to be obvious.

    If I need to go see a professional about something, whether it’s personal counseling or a dentist or to get help choosing what color to paint my bedroom, I have to take time out of my life to go see them. I have other things I could be doing. I could be getting my housework done. I could be visiting my niece and nephew. I could be visiting my friends. I could be working on my personal programming projects. I could be sewing. I could be at work in my office.

    The time I lose by going to consult a professional who then refers me to a colleague, however courteously and without expressing judgment, is time wasted. That time had value, and now it’s gone. 

    Further, I will then have to rearrange my schedule again, which might have some social or professional cost aside from the actual time spent. (“Why is he always taking time out of the office for personal appointments? He’s not a reliable employee.” or “He postponed our date AGAIN? I guess he doesn’t really like me. I’ll dump him.”) Also, I might not be able to schedule an appointment with the colleague to whom I was referred soon enough to meet my needs. (It had to wait over 3 months for my appointment to see a specialist at a medical center recently. If I’d had to be referred and rebook to see someone else, that’d have been 6 months, in which time I could have suffered terrible health consequences.)

    So yeah, the clients damned well ARE harmed by a professional’s refusal to provide secular services to a client because of the professional’s religious bigotry. If you’re not able to do a job without interference by your religion, don’t take the job, you’re not qualified.

  • wright1

    Ms. Walden is finding out what it’s like to be treated equally, outside the umbrella of Christian privilege that she assumed she was still under. To believers like her this seems like incredible persecution, when it is in fact impartial justice.

    Christians don’t know from persecution in the USA. They’ve been in control so long that any challenge to that status quo is perceived as a deadly threat.

  • Anonymous

     I honestly don’t see why people like Ms. Waden go into counseling in the first place- you know you will come into contact with all sorts of people yet you already have a wall up about some of them. *shakes head* I can understand going into Christian counseling or advertising yourself as a christian counselor because most rational people will probably avoid you or at least know you have a religious bias.

  • She must have thought she worked in a church, where she could be judgmental of everyone. Someone explain to her what the responsibilities of a counselor are next time.

  • Annie

    Even in this incredibly biased video, Walden still managed to shoot herself in the foot.  “It’s always about, how do I share god with them.”  Ummm…. no!  It’s about how do you help someone in need.  She was hired as a counselor, but had other, (and in her mind) more important things to do.  Her motives were to “share god”, not to do her job as a counselor.  I don’t understand why this is so hard for the religious to understand.  I know they are blinded by their belief, but it doesn’t take much to imagine how they would feel if a counselor tried to help them by “sharing” Allah or Ganesha (or any other god).

  • Anonymous

    If you were an atheist counselor and had to refer the deeply religious and proselytizers to another counselor because you were unable to deal honestly and compassionately with their problems, how long would you keep your job?

  • Anonymous

    [quote]“[a] counselor who is a Christian shouldn’t lose her job for upholding the highest professional standards.”[/quote]

    Really?  Wow.  In reality, she didn’t want to do her job for *personal* reasons.  Also, when you take a job, unless your employer is a religious institution of some kind, it’s probably not your job to share faith *while on the clock*.  Doubly so when your paycheck is funded with tax dollars.

  • Carrie

    Good point. Thanks for the compliment and the very kind correction. I will work that term out of my lexicon. In this context, would “sexuality” be an appropriate substitute? 

  • Flip the situation around and see how the Christians feel when a counselor provides a referral to a vulnerable needy client because they disapprove of the client’s Christianity.

  • Carrie

    You make excellent points. Thanks for bringing that perspective, I hadn’t thought of it that way. You are obviously correct, and your point applies to anyone of any sexuality who could suffer this sort of (mis)treatment. I’m sorry I didn’t consider this, especially given that it’s easy to picture a devout counselor saying the same thing about an atheist, and having to go elsewhere.

  • Carrie

    Excellently put. Thanks for bringing a therapist’s perspective on the issue. I think you, and all the others who agree with you, have changed my mind. Unfortunately, the law does not seem to agree with us right now. Nice thing about laws in a secular society is they can be changed.

  • Xeon2000

    I don’t know.  Look to Richard Wade as an example.  It sounds like he’s probably counseled deeply religious Christians at some point in time and did it with honesty and compassion.

    I think the Christian counselor is the one with the handicap in this case.  They approach their clients with God at the forefront of their mind.  A secular counselor approaches their client as another human.  We don’t all believe in God, but we are all human.  Therefore, I firmly believe that a secular-based counselor is able to find a commonality with just about anybody.  It’s all about being able to establish that connection.

  • Carrie

    Update: Changed from “lifestyle” to “sexuality.” I’d never want to unintentionally sound a conservative dog whistle. 

  • In the course of my life, I’ve used both short-term and long-term counseling off and on for decades.  There has been more than one occasion on which I wished that a counselor had referred me to someone more qualified to deal with my issues.

    There’s this weird “thin blue line” mentality in mental health counseling where therapists are loath to admit their own weaknesses and biases and make the fucking referral when it’s appropriate.

    Not every licensed therapist can help me.

    I don’t know whether Ms. Walden is qualified to counsel anybody, but I’m absolutely certain she’s not qualified to counsel everybody. And in this respect, she’s just like every psychotherapist, ever.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent point, Thomas. I was about to say “what’s the harm in referring patients? Even tho homophobia is a shitty reason to do so, as long as she doesn’t bash them openly blah blah blah…” But you’re right.

    You’re more than right. That kind of discrimination through buck passing actually sounds eerily familiar. A person can lose months, years, tens of thousands in student loan debt, a passable credit score, rescheduling costs, a job, another job and on and on.

    I think it actually happened to me for some unknown reason. People at my university treated me like I smelled bad, and nobody ever did tell me why. Ageism? Snooty Fashionista Style Assessments? A mild walleye that acts up more when I’m sleep deprived? Was I chubbier than I thought? Is being a size 12 at 5’9″ in heels enough to induce Fat Phobia? Or maybe I’m cuter than I thought, and this is mean girl chick pecking?

    No, it’s not a therapist’s job to make her patient late and neurotic. They were right to fire her.  

  • Anonymous

    Btw, I might not have needed to be reminded of how ‘tolerance’ without actual acceptance of a person’s differences harms them if I had been able to watch the video. My apologies. My equipment’s acting up right now.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly don’t see why people like Ms. Waden go into counseling in the first place


  • Anonymous

    Ms. Walden is finding out what it’s like to be treated equally, outside the umbrella of Christian privilege that she assumed she was still under. To believers like her this seems like incredible persecution, when it is in fact impartial justice.

    It’s too bad the above is a little too long for a bumper sticker or t-shirt, because it’s spot on!

  • Anonymous

    Flip the situation around and see how the Christians feel when a counselor provides a referral to a vulnerable needy client because they disapprove of the client’s Christianity.


  • Thank you.   “Orientation” is also a good term to use, for future reference.  🙂

  • Unfortunately many RRRW Christians don’t separate their religion from the rest of their lives, including their jobs.  To them, any job they do is nothing more than an extension of their “ministry”. 

  • Religious privilege. *yawn*

  • T-Rex

    Obviously she’s the one that needs some serious counseling. Religion is such a hideous disease. I wish there was a vaccine we could give children so that when they are exposed to it, (read indoctrinated), they would be immune to it.

  • “. . . it seemed unfair that [Ms. Doe] was able to talk about being gay and lesbian, and yet I couldn’t freely talk about me and my religious beliefs, or being Christian”
    A counseling session isn’t about equal sharing. It’s about your patient.

  • Anonymous

     If you think they aren’t qualified, can’t you just ask for a referral?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Ms. Walden should have been fired for discrimination and not laid off because that is what she did. She denied services to someone because of their orientation and that’s discrimination. As a government contractor, we are counseled about that ALL THE TIME. 

    I find that CSC handled it improperly when they offered her a chance to make another referral for the client. There is only TWO referrals she could have made: if there was a conflict of interest because she had a personal connection to the patient or the patient’s significant other or if the patient needed to be admitted into full time care. That’s it. 

    Obviously she was a good worker with some seniority and CSC wanted to keep her around. So i guess they were trying to do right by everyone, but still discrimination is discrimination. 

  • Anonymous

    I watched the video too, LOL! the FRC is a trip.
    she’s making tea in her microwave, wow, that’s hard! 

    What was disturbing is that in her interview, she says that God chose her. That is crazy. I run into many people who believe that. They commit a wrong and get in trouble and then claim that God is on their side and will protect them.

    That’s troubling. 

  • Anonymous

    i forgot about that part, when tax dollars are involved, the employees should know and do better. 

  • Rwlawoffice

    Actually as a Christian I would like to be referred out by a counselor who disagreed with my worldview.    

  • Rwlawoffice

    Maybe i missed something, but where did she say to the client what her personal views were that prevented her from feeling she should be objective?  Everyone agrees tht the referral was correct and the ethical thing to do.  What the client got upset about was not the referral but the fact that she expressed her personal views prevented her from being an effective counselor.  So if she did that without saying anything she would still have a job.   

  • She told the patient that her “personal values” prevented her from counseling her effectively. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that means. If Walden had simply agreed to make future referrals without expressing her disapproval, then of course she would still have a job.

    If she can be honest – I mean, I should be honest about why I’m transferring her.

    Translation: I should be able to tell her that I disapprove of her sexual orientation and I can’t counsel her because I disagree with her “lifestyle choice.” Walden clearly doesn’t care about how such a remark affects the patient. Her desire to express her religious views is more important than anything else.

  • Thackerie

     If you’re a Christian, it’s all about “ME! ME! ME!’

    OK, I guess they’re not all that way, but I have encountered more than a fair share of them who seem totally self-obsessed and have no empathy for other people.

  • Rwlawoffice

    So she did the professional and ethical move with the referral and yet gets fired for implying her beliefs.  Another example of a Christian being told to stay quiet.

    So if an atheist counselor had a client that came to her and said that she was having problems between her christian faith and some of her decisions and the atheist said, I am not the right counselor for you because of my personal beliefs, should that counselor be fired? Or does it only work this way between Christians and the homosexual community?  

  • Fentwin

    “Help! Help! I’m being repressed! ” 

  • John Frazer

    That’s a false equivalence. What this person did is more like if an atheist councilor had said “I can’t help you because I’m not comfortable dealing with delusions.” What this person did was not just “implying her beliefs” it was casting judgement on a vulnerable person. If an atheist had done anything similar, they would deserve to be fired.

  • Anonymous

     That was his entire MO in the last thread he trolled

  • It was not professional or ethical of her to express disapproval of the patient. If it had merely been a referral, there wouldn’t have been a problem. And she didn’t get fired because of her actions in this case. She was fired because she has said she will continue to express disapproval of patients in the future. She really wants to let those patients know that she disagrees with them, all in the name of “honesty,” of course. 

    And, as someone else mentioned, your comparison does not work. If a Christian came to an atheist counselor and the counselor said that she needed to refer the patient because she disapproved of the patient’s religion, that would be just as unprofessional and unethical. It shouldn’t be controversial to expect medical professionals to refrain from making judgmental remarks about patients.

  • This is Robert W. from the old site. I almost never agree with him, but I don’t consider him a troll.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Another example of a Christian being told to stay quiet. ”

    Rwlawoffice, I personally find you to be a fairly reasonable person, so I’ll remind you that not everything is a Christian vs Atheist issue, this case is a prime example.

    A person seeking the assistance of a counselor is expecting help and advice, “Jane Doe” got neither because “personal values” resulted in the counselor denying services. This means the counselor failed to perform their duties on behalf of CSC.

    As a former employee of CSC I had to sign a diversity contract as a condition of employment. It was basically a reminder that CSC is a global company with employees and contracts all over the world and that I was expected to treat everyone equally. Failure to abide by the contract is grounds for termination, there are no excuses. 

    To answer your hypothetical question, the answer is a resounding, “YES”.  The ‘atheist’ counselor should be fired.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Anna thank you for the kind words in response to the troll dig.  My point is that the counselor did not demean the patient or express any disapproval to her about her lifestyle.  As far as the patient was concerned it could have been anything. It was only when her superiors talked to her that this was explored.   

  • Rwlawoffice

    I agree. People are people and because of that they each have their own beliefs which could affect their ability to be an objective counselor.  Thus it was right to do the referral and the only reason she was fired was because she expressed those beliefs.  Had it been anything other then her disapproval of homosexuality this would not have been an issue.

  • I thought we’d lost you in the Patheos transition, so it’s nice to see you again. We will probably never agree on much, but I do appreciate the fact that you’re willing to have civil discussions.

    Back to the matter at hand, I think maybe you don’t quite realize that by using the phrase “personal values,” the counselor made it very obvious what her objection was. The patient is a lesbian who has no doubt encountered anti-gay sentiments many, many times before in her life. When she heard that phrase, she knew exactly what it meant. Any reasonable person would know what it meant: that the counselor was expressing her disapproval of and disagreement with homosexuality. If she had been more diplomatic, if she had agreed not to tell patients why she couldn’t counsel them, then there wouldn’t have been this kind of trouble.

    But I think it is more important for Ms. Walden to let those patients know that she disapproves. She claimed it was about honesty, but she’s a trained counselor dealing with people who are in fragile and vulnerable emotional states. It’s not necessary (let alone ethical or professional) for her to make remarks that leave the patient feeling stigmatized.

  • Carrie

    Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind. 

  • Carrie

    Just wanted to jump into this quickly to mention something else from the reading I did on the subject in writing this post. Perhaps I should have also mentioned that Jane Doe indicated that Ms.Walden also exhibited “non-verbal” disapproval. Does that make it less ambiguous? 

    Also consider that LGBT people are awash in prejudice in our society. I think I’d trust them to spot it.

  • TiltedHorizon

    She is free to disapprove of homosexuality, she is not free to deny service based on the disapproval. Did you miss the part of my post regarding the diversity contact and having to treat everyone equally? She withheld a service based on the person being homosexual, that is not equal treatment in any context.

  •  Based on your experience, is it common for someone to receive a counseling license or degree without having their own attitudes examined?   When I was in the Army, I had to take a battery of psych tests in order to do background checks on people applying for security clearances, because I would be interviewing all sorts of people.   I don’t understand how somebody gets credentialed as a counselor without having the fact that they are at odds with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders come to light.

  • Anonymous

    Shit. I thought we got rid of that annoying tard. Discussion is all fine and good, but it’s absolutely impossible to reason with him. I still don’t understand why people bother

  • TiltedHorizon

     “My point is that the counselor did not demean the patient or express any disapproval to her about her lifestyle.”

    The counselor does not need to “demean or express disapproval”. Due to her ‘personal beliefs’ she is willingly withholding care from a subset of clients she is expected to assist.

  • Licenses for secular (meaning not specifically religious) counselors such as Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, and Clinical Psychologists are granted by each state, and their standards can vary somewhat. In general, MFC’s and SW’s and their equivalents require a Master’s in psychology, social work, or a closely-related major from an accredited college. Psychologists require a PhD from an accredited college. All their licenses require thousands of supervised hours working as intern counselors, and written and oral final examinations.

    When I was going through that process in the 1980’s, there was never any formal examination of students’ and interns’ religious views, or how those might impact their ability to deliver competent counseling, but I think that since then, the increased visibility of GLBT struggles for civil rights and acceptance in the public arena has made that a much more important issue, and so I would not be surprised to hear that religious conflicts would be pointedly addressed in counseling classes. I certainly hope so.

    Licensees are required to have continuing education to keep renewing their licenses, and those requirements (at least for me in California) reflect ongoing changes in society, such as classes about cultural and national diversity, and sensitivity to cultural, religious and sexual differences. At the very least, counselors are exposed to formal education that can bring their awareness up about these issues, BUT that doesn’t necessarily prevent someone who is harboring religious objections to homosexuality from just pretending to “get it.” Once they pass the course, they might behave as they please until they get in trouble when a client complains to their boss.

    “Pastoral counselors” also have licenses granted by states, and their requirements also vary from state to state. They might not have standards for knowledge and skills in counseling psychology that are as rigorous as for the mainstream counselor licenses, and their training in their religion is included in their curriculum. I am not certain, but I expect that any difficulties they have working with GLBT people are much more easily forgiven, perhaps even accepted and expected, and those attitudes are probably not considered to be an obstacle to their becoming qualified for their degrees or licenses.

    Caveat emptor! If you’re looking for a counselor, pointedly and frankly question them about their attitudes about any such issues, on the phone before you set up an appointment. Don’t waste your time and subject yourself to frustration and humiliation.

  • and LGBT people would like to be referred out by a counselor who disagreed with homosexuality. But they need to be careful and sensitive. When someone is vulnerable and putting their trust in a counselor to help them with their personal problems, it only adds to their frustration or depression when that counselor is judgmental and explicitly disapproves of them.

  • Frank Bellamy

    It sounds like the harm that is done  by the referral could be avoided by directing gay clients towards gay friendly counselors when they make the first counseling appointment rather than making a referral at the first counseling appointment?

  • Frank Bellamy

    I think this is the worst possible outcome. The court has basically mandated that christian counselors lie, and I don’t see how that can be justified. LGBT people have a right to receive appropriate counseling, they do not have a right not to be informed that other people disagree with their sexual orientation, or that they are being served by one counselor rather than another because of their sexual orientation. If this particular gay client is offended by the fact that somebody disagrees with his sexual orientation, then that is his problem, he has no reasonable basis for insisting that somebody be fired over it.

    The argument offered by Dr. Chosewood, that expressing any disapproval of LGBT persons in this context is unacceptable because ” it does not further the therapeutic relationship in any way,” makes absolutely no sense in this context. Ms. Walden wasn’t trying to further the therapeutic relationship she had with this client, she was trying to end that therapeutic relationship. That is the whole point of a referral!

    This case highlights the problem with the free exercise clause and other statutes (RFRA, RLUIPA) that allow religious people to break perfectly valid laws. They discriminate against nonreligious reasons and therefor against nonreligious people. When this woman wanted to do a bad thing (discriminate against LGBT people) because of her religion, she was allowed to. When she wanted to do a good thing (be honest about it) because it was a good thing, she was punished for it. How does that make any sense?

  • Alex

    Fuck this shit. If a firefighter claims that he is a muslim whose beliefs prevent him to put out fires for an infidel’s house, or a jewish EMT refuses to resuscitate a goy, they will be rightfully fired, and possibly tried for a criminal offense. Personal beliefs mean bupkis when they prevent you from doing the damn job you were hired to do. Deal with it.

  • John Frazer

    In this case, “being honest” is the bad thing. It’s like if the councilor was racist, and referred all Hispanics to another councilor. That alone is discrimination. If she then said, “I can’t council you because of my loyalty to this country,” that would be “honest,” but it would also be taking a pot shot at a patient for no good reason. This would be doubly bad if the whole reason the patient was there in the first place was because they were feeling alienated from American culture.

    The first rule of medicine is “do no harm,” and if a professional can’t put that above her religion, she has no business working in the field.

  • Demonhype

    Exactly.  There is a time and a place that is appropriate for religious discussion, and that situation was not one of  them.  A Christian being asked to be professional on her job, the same expectation made of everyone else BTW, is not the same as “Christians being told to stay quiet.”  If an atheist counselor was uncomfortable with a client’s obsessive faith, it might be appropriate to give a referral to someone who could more easily work within that client’s faith, but it would be wholly inappropriate to say “I’m referring you to someone because I think religion is wrong/crazy/delusional/etc.”  Even to an atheist like me who wants to raise awareness of atheism, there are times when it is incredibly inappropriate, unprofessional, and just plain wrong to be spreading one’s views.  There are lots of situations in our society designed to try and shut atheists up and keep them in the closet, but telling that atheist counselor to make the referral tactfully and without insult or judgment to the client is not one of them.  And that goes for every counselor, regardless of religious or political views.

    And where is this magic universe where Christians are told to stay quiet?  All I ever see is Christians smearing their religion on everything, everywhere, no matter how inappropriate or unfair or illegal, and in most cases being celebrated as heroes for it–particularly when it infringes on the rights of non-Christians.  It would be lovely change to spend some time in a place where religious people, especially Christians, don’t feel the need to make everyone in the universe aware at all times, using any means necessary, that they Have Faith and Are Christian.

  • Frank Bellamy

    First, Ms. Walden is a counselor, not a doctor or a nurse, so the rules of medicine don’t necessarily translate in every respect.

    I still don’t see how being honest can be a bad thing. Ms. Walden did not go on a rant about the evils of homosexuality, or try to convince the client to become christian or straight, or call the client a name, or anything like that. She simply stated matter of factly the reason for the referral. Doesn’t the patient have a right to know that? If you were the gay client getting a referral, wouldn’t you want to know that the reason was because you were gay and that particular counselor couldn’t deal with that? If you were given some made up reason unrelated to your being gay, and found out the truth latter, wouldn’t you feel particularly demeaned? Not only does Ms. Walden not approve of your being gay, but she thinks you are so immature that you aren’t even capable of dealing with the fact that some people disapprove of your being gay (as though you didn’t deal with that every day of the week anyway). Not only that, but Ms. Walden’s superiors, from whose counseling department you need services, have made clear that they think you are incapable of dealing with the fact that some people disapprove of your being gay. Isn’t that the worst possible outcome here?

  • MissKriss

    “No one” told her that she had to counsel people that are LGBT? Really? Did she not have classes on ethics like every one else has to take? It is very clearly stated that to habitually refer patients based on culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status or any basis proscribed by law is unethical according to the ACA. 

    I fail to see how she made it so far through her counseling education and career and never had to learn the basics in ethics? 

    In my psych and counseling classes, every single term, sexuality is discussed and it is drilled into our heads the rules and ethics codes according to the APA, NBCC, and ACA. If she can’t put her personal b.s. aside, how is she going to counsel someone who is getting a divorce? Or raising their children in an “ungodly” way? She needs to be a pastor so that she can only counsel those that share in her religious beliefs. Because there are a lot more people out there who don’t follow all the “rules” of religion to the letter. How is she going to counsel those people? I mean, really, is she going to tell a rape victim that she has to marry her rapist because it’s in the bible? 

  • Frank Bellamy

    Just because a professional organization says something is ethical doesn’t make it so. How does it help anyone to have a gay person counseled by a christian who disapproves of of homosexuality? Does anyone honestly believe that any counselor is capable of putting their personal beliefs aside when they walk into a counseling session? Or is the point of this to keep non-liberals out of the counseling profession?

    Imagine what happens if your suggestion is followed, MissKriss. Instead of becoming a counselor, Ms. Walden becomes a minister and counsels people anyway. Now Ms. Walden is lacking in any real counseling training, in any scientific understanding of human psychology. That hurts all her clients. Now, when a gay person comes to Ms. Walden for counseling, she doesn’t refer them to another counselor, she tries to convince them of how evil homosexuality is. Maybe Ms. Walden refers any gay people who come to her to one of those institutions that tries to turn gay people straight. That especially hurts her gay clients. Your idea that christian coiunselors who don’t want to counsel gay people should become ministers would do a lot more harm than good. I think everyone is better off if the counseling profession can tolerate counselors who make referrals based on their personal beliefs.

  • Pseudonym

    The converse is that it’s a basic tenet of professional conduct that, excepting certain extreme circumstances, no professional should be required to take on a client that they don’t want to for any reason whatsoever. Sometimes, the client’s problem is outside their speciality. Sometimes, a professional and the potential client just aren’t a good match for any number of reasons.

    Should a lawyer be required to take on a client who wants to mount a frivolous lawsuit? Should a doctor be required to perform a medical procedure on someone who, in their opinion, may not understand the full implications of that procedure? Should a counsellor be required to take on a client whose needs are sufficiently outside the counsellor’s area of expertise?

    Regardless of how inconvenienced a potential client may be, the default position of the law is that it’s the professional’s job to determine whether they and the client are a good or bad fit, because they are the experts. Except under specifically enumerated circumstances (e.g. a patient whose health would be threatened were treatment to be delayed), a professional may decline taking on a client for any reason at all (some professions are expected to provide a referral and some are not) and the law won’t pry into the reason why.

    The problem here is that the counsellor broke professional ethics by giving a bad reason. All she had to do was say “I’m not the best person to help you; I’ll refer you to someone who can help you better than I can”. That’s it. Nothing further required.

    I have refused plenty of clients for unspecified reasons in my engineering career. The actual reasons are varied. Sometimes, it’s clear that arranging meetings between the client and myself is going to be highly inconvenient for me. Sometimes, they really need a specialist in an area that I don’t specialise in. Sometimes, it just doesn’t smell right. In each case, my response was “I don’t think I’m right for this job”, sometimes followed by “let me ask around and see if I can find someone”. If I had to justify every such decision to a jury’s satisfaction, I’d be in a different business.

  • Pseudonym

    If LGBT issues are outside her area of expertise, she shouldn’t be working as a counselor.

    If corporate contracts are outside your area of expertise, you shouldn’t be working as a lawyer.

    If rail bridges are outside your area of expertise, you shouldn’t be working as a civil engineer.

    If abdominal surgery is outside your area of expertise, you shouldn’t be working as a doctor.

    Do you see where this sort of thing can lead? You’re effectively denying that LGBT people face different issues from non-LGBT people in our society. I wish that were true.

  • Pseudonym


    What if there are no other counselors? What if, in a given institution,
    an anti-Gay counselor is the only one on staff, or the institution ONLY
    has anti-gay counselors?

    Then they wouldn’t have won a government contract to provide counselling services. I don’t know if you’ve ever read a government contract or not, but they’re usually pretty strict about such things. If the organisation thought that it couldn’t provide the service, it wouldn’t have applied for the job. If it helps, remember that it’s the organisation who fired her.

  • Pseudonym

     What about if the client was a military veteran dealing with PTSD? What about if they were a rape survivor? How about if they were born in another country and had cultural issues to deal with?

    Counsellors can and do specialise, and for good reason. This wasn’t a good reason, but in the general case, professionals need to be able to refer clients for whatever reason they see fit.

  • Pseudonym

     Contrary to what fantasy Hollywood movies tell you, “telling the truth” is not the same as “blurting out every little thing that comes into your head”.

    She was not required to lie at all. It is not a lie to say “I don’t think I’m the best person to help you; here’s someone who can do it better”.

  • Frank Bellamy

    In this context, where Ms. Walden is making a referral that will inconvenience the client, not to give the real reason for that referral is a lie of omission. It is something the client is entitled to know. Not telling the client the truth treats the client with disrespect, it treats the client like he can’t handle the truth.

  • Pseudonym
  • Frank Bellamy

    I saw it. It does not explain why a reason should not be given, and in fact is self contradictory. You seem to think that absolutely any reason is a valid reason for a professional to refuse a client. Then, without any explanation at all, you label Ms. Walden’s reason a “bad” reason, and assert that therefor she should not have expressed it. Well on what basis do you differentiate “good” from “bad ” reasons? What is it about “bad” reasons that makes it inappropriate to express them? You didn’t even attempt to answer the question above.

  • Uly

     Ah, yes, I can picture it now…

    Receptionist: All right, we can book you in on either Monday or Wednesday.
    Client: How about Thursday?
    Receptionist: That depends. Are you gay? Because that’s a no-go if you are.

  • Pseudonym

    If it helps, consider this analogy: I believe that there are “bad” reasons why a woman might seek an abortion. I also believe that it’s not up to the law to decide what’s a “good” reason and what’s a “bad” reason, but rather, the decision on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be between a patient exercising informed consent and her doctor.

    Ms. Walden’s reason for refusing the client was a “bad” one. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s the law’s responsibility to pass judgement on her refusal to see a client. On the first hand, by effectively indicating that the reason for the refusal was her own bigotry, she created a hostile relationship with the potential client, and that is what did her in.

    These fine distinctions really matter, though admittedly they don’t come up that often.

    Except in the case of an emergency, professionals must be able to punt a job to someone better suited to do the job if, in their professional opinion, they can’t give the client what they need. The client always comes first. That includes knowing the limits of your own competence.

  • amyc

    She shouldn’t become a minister. She should work for a religious counseling service.

  • NickDB

    Should a lawyer be required to take on a client who wants to mount a frivolous lawsuit?

    Should a doctor be required to perform a medical procedure on someone who, in their opinion, may not understand the full implications of that procedure? Should a counsellor be required to take on a client whose needs are sufficiently outside the counsellor’s area of expertise?

    I think you’re over simplifying things here.

    Can a lawyer refuse to take on a black person’s murder case because his KKK membership doesn’t allow it?

    Can a doctor refuse to do an operation on a child because he’s Muslim and the child is Jewish?

    Can a counsellor refuse to do their job because they’re Christian and their patient is gay?

    No they cannot. The situations you gave are very different to the situation in the article. A frivolous lawsuit, not understanding an operation and not being qualified to do a job are very different to discriminating due to personal belief

  • british atheist

    What really put me off was he quotes in the interview, paraphrasing the “I never said that I was giving the word of god, but that’s what I tried to give my clients”

    That is enough to disqualify her in my eyes: Counselling shouldn’t be a way to smuggle in the world of god, because that sounds mighty like brainwashing.

  • “I think this is the worst possible outcome. The court has basically mandated that christian/racist/muslim counselors lie, and I don’t see how that can be justified. LGBT/black/jewish  people have a right to receive appropriate counseling, they do not have a right not to be informed that other people disagree with their sexual orientation/skin colour/religion , or that they are being served by one counselor rather than another because of their sexual orientation/skin colour/religion . If this particular gay/black/jewish  client is offended by the fact that somebody disagrees with his sexual orientation
    /skin colour/religion , then that is his problem, he has no reasonable basis for insisting that somebody be fired over it.”

  • Frank Bellamy

    If that’s meant to be a criticism GentleGiant, you’re going to have to explain it a little more.

  • It was indeed meant as criticism.
    Saying that people should expect to be discriminated against if they happen (or choose, if you want the f*ckwad version) to be of another sexuality than most and that they just have to suck it up, especially in a counselling situation, is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard.
    So I put in the other words to, hopefully, show you how utterly ridiculous your assertion was. 

  • Frank Bellamy

    If you’d paid a little more attention to those words, you might have realized that that wasn’t an argument that counselors should be allowed to refer clients for discriminatory reasons, it was an argument that if we are going to allow that (as the court does), then we should allow them to stat their discriminatory reasons. I have argued in other comments on this post why I think that allowing counselors to refer clients for discriminatory reasons is a good idea, why don’t you go respond to that?

  • You wrote that someone, in a counselling situation, shouldn’t be upset that someone discriminates against them based on who they are. That’s what I’m opposing.
    I guess you’ve never been in such a situation, then you might be more sympathetic towards those who get shit like that thrown at them in a vulnerable situation.
    I still can’t fathom why you’d think it’s okay to basically say to someone: “Sorry, I personally don’t like (think your) sexuality/gender/colour/religion (is wrong/a sin) so I’m going to refer you to someone else who doesn’t have a problem with it.”

  • Pseudonym

    I’m not oversimplifying it at all. As a matter of principle, we give professionals considerable latitude in deciding whether or not
    they will take on a client, and with good reason. The professional is
    the expert. It’s part of their job to know whether or not the client is a
    good fit, and to provide a referral if it isn’t. The law does not pry into the question of why the referral happens unless there’s evidence that the reason might be unlawful.

    Unless there an emergency of some kind, clients are not harmed by a professional referring them to someone who, in their professional opinion, would better serve the client’s need.

    If Ms. Walden hadn’t created a hostile environment for the client by her demeanour (which was a serious breach of ethics), you’d never have heard about this case. You would not have been able to tell if the reason was because she hatez teh gay, or because she honestly felt that someone with more expertise in the issues facing homosexual people would be a better fit. In this case, both of these are probably accurate.

  • Anonymous

    I would think that Ms. Walden will have no problems being hired as a counselor for a religious organization where she doesn’t have to worry about counseling people with whom she disagrees. 
    Her employer had the right to require its counselors to provide services to all regardless of sexual orientation.  I’m glad she lost her job.  Being a Christian does not give you the right to disregard your employer’s job requirements.

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