The Michigan legislature is working on a measure in the state higher education budget that would require state-funded universities to report steps they’re making to protect religious freedom on campus.
The action stems from concern over the treatment of a Christian student at Eastern Michigan University. In March 2009, Julea Ward was expelled by the university last year for refusing to endorse homosexual relationships in pursuit of a graduate degree in counseling.
Ward was dismissed from the counseling program because she would not agree prior to a counseling session to affirm a client’s homosexual behavior and would not retract her stand in subsequent disciplinary proceedings. She had been informed that the only way she could remain in the program would be to agree to undergo a “remediation” program that would help her “see the error of her ways” and change her “belief system” regarding homosexual relationships.
In early April 2009, Ward brought a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University through the Alliance Defense Fund, claiming a violation of her constitutional rights.
In response to the Ward case, the Michigan Senate has adopted the new provision, which requires each public university to submit a report by mid-October on its compliance with the measure. State Representative Tom McMillin gives details of the plan.
“[T]his appropriation bill…says that in the area of counseling, all [state] universities have to say how they are making sure that they are accommodating somebody’s religious beliefs — in particular, the department that grants master’s and bachelor’s degrees in counseling,” says the state lawmaker.
“It’s very clear that this is targeted toward the Julea Ward situation,” McMillin adds, “and we’re trying to figure out how to also incorporate some penalties to schools that are not fulfilling this requirement.”
Representative McMillin believes the Michigan legislature has a duty to hold state schools accountable. “It is taxpayer money — and if they’re going to take our money, they should not be clearly discriminating against Christians based on their religious beliefs,” he submits.
The bill now moves to the Michigan House of Representatives.