Pupil sues univeristy over religious freedom

Posted at 3:37 PM, Apr 22, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A former Missouri State University graduate student says in a federal lawsuit that the school kicked him out of a master's program three years after he said counseling gay couples violated his religious beliefs.

Andrew Cash said he was removed from the master's counseling program at Missouri State in 2014 after telling a professor in 2011 he would not counsel gay couples. Cash started the program in 2007.

The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Cash. The lawsuit in federal court in Springfield names the university's board of governors and several school officials as defendants. It claims the university denied Cash's rights to religion and free speech and seeks unspecified monetary and punitive damages.

Missouri State University spokeswoman M. Suzanne Shaw told The Associated Press in an email Friday that the university "strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class." Shaw also said the university hasn't seen the lawsuit and doesn't comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, W. K. Boyce, executive director of the Christian-based counseling center where Cash interned, made a presentation to one of Cash's classes in 2011. In response to a question during that presentation, Boyce said he would counsel gay individuals separately but would refer gay couples to other counselors who did not share his religious beliefs.

About a week later, Cash's internship coordinator questioned Cash about his own views on counseling gay couples, the lawsuit said. Cash said he also would counsel gay people individually but refer them to someone else for couple counseling.

Cash's "approach to counseling is centered on his core beliefs, values and Christian worldview and these would not be congruent with the likely values and needs of a gay couple," the lawsuit said.

It said the university's internship coordinator told Cash that his stance went against the code of ethics of the American Counseling Association, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

The university then canceled his internship and placed Cash on a remediation plan that required him to attend counseling sessions, audit two courses he had already passed and complete a self-assessment, according to the lawsuit. After appealing the matter, Cash, 46, was removed from the program in November 2014.

Cash "was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple," the lawsuit claims. "Since he did not give the 'correct' answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program."