11th Circuit Refuses to Grant Preliminary Injunction in ASU Counseling Dispute


The Eleventh Circuit has just rejected a counseling student’s effort to prevent Augusta State University in Georgia from requiring her to participate in a special “remediation plan” to get her to separate her religious beliefs about sexuality from her work as a counselor.

The school made the requirement a condition of her ability to participate in its Masters program for school counselors because faculty objected to comments she made in class discussions and assignments in which she expressed that “she believes GLBTQ ‘lifestyles’ to be "identity confusion” and because of “unsolicited reports from another student that she related her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations, and she has tried to convince other students to support and believe her views.”

The student has sued to prevent being forced out of the program if she does not complete the plan and sought to have a federal court issue a preliminary injunction to keep the school from enforcing the requirement immediately. In deciding whether the injunction should be issued, the court assessed the constitutional claims and decided that the student would likely lose since the school’s requirement did not, the court held, single her out for unfair treatment because of her religious beliefs but because of her desire to act on those beliefs in her work.

Since she is not likely to prevail on the constitutional claim, the court did not think an injunction should be issued. Unless the 11th Circuit panel’s decision is reversed or the school changes its requirement, the student will be forced to fulfill the special requirement or be kicked out of the Masters program. Her discrimination claim against the school can proceed even if she is forced out but will have to do so despite the 11th Circuit panel’s announcement that she is not likely to win on her constitutional claims unless she can show new evidence or provide new arguments.

The Eleventh Circuit decision can be found here (PDF).