A former graduate student in Missouri State University’s counseling program says he was ousted from the department after stating that he would refuse to counsel a gay couple.
Andrew Cash, a former MSU student, is suing the university for unspecified damages over what he says is a violation of his religious rights. A Christian, Cash decided to fulfill his mandatory internship course at the Christian-run Springfield Marriage and Family Institute. But Cash says when his MSU professors learned of the institute’s anti-gay marriage views in 2011, his internship was terminated, and his religious views subjected to scrutiny.
MSU told Cash that this anti-gay stance was discriminatory, and in violation of counseling ethics, the lawsuit alleges. But after Cash was removed from the counseling program a few credits shy of graduation, he claimed that he, not his hypothetical clients, was the victim of discrimination.
MSU did not offer comment on Cash’s pending lawsuit, but has faced similar cases in the past. In 2006, the school agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a student who brought discrimination charges after she was allegedly punished for refusing to sign a letter in support of gay adoption.
Cash enrolled in Missouri State University’s graduate program for counseling in 2007. The degree program requires students to work at least 600 hours in a clinical internship, which must be approved by the counseling department. MSU signed off on Cash’s internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute—but when Cash invited the institute’s executive director, W.K. Boyce, to a class presentation, the SMFI’s ethics came under fire.
“A student asked Boyce if SMFI counsels gay couples,” Cash’s law firm, the Thomas More Society, writes in its suit against MSU. “Boyce said that he would counsel gay persons as individuals, but not as couples, because of his religious beliefs, but would refer the couple for counseling to other counselors he knew who did not share his religious views.”
After the presentation, Cash says his internship coordinator asked him to meet with her, informing him that he would be removed from his internship at SMFI until the institute addressed certain “ethical concerns.” Then Cash’s adviser asked him if he would also deny counsel to a gay couple. Cash replied that he would.
Cash’s advisor told him his stance contradicted the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, a non-binding document that reads, in part, “Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination against prospective or current clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants based on … gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, … or any basis proscribed by law.”
MSU allegedly prescribed Cash a remedial program, consisting in part of classes he had already passed. But the school told him he would not be allowed to re-enroll in the required clinical internship until he “complete[d] a self-assessment which would be reviewed by the committee,” his lawsuit alleges.
Cash says he passed his remedial courses, but was repeatedly denied the chance to re-enroll in an internship, as faculty allegedly cited doubts about his personal and professional disposition. Lacking the required clinical internship hours, Cash was removed from the counseling program in November 2014.
Now suing MSU for unspecified monetary and punitive damages, Cash claims the university violated his First Amendment rights of speech and religion—a claim the university denies.
MSU told The Daily Beast that it had not reviewed the lawsuit, but that it does not tolerate discrimination.
“Missouri State University has not been served with a petition on this matter, and does not comment on pending litigation,” MSU told The Daily Beast in a statement. “The University strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class.”
But Cash, who states in his lawsuit that he would still deny counseling to gay couples, says he is the victim of discrimination.
“The experience has been a living nightmare for Plaintiff who has lost countless hours of sleep, and lives with gut-wrenching thoughts and fears about his future and ability to enter the counseling profession, and experiences of emotional grief, anxiety and panic, each day since April of 2011,” his lawyers allege.