Sunday, April 24, 2016

Violating free exercise rights and education?

A former student of Missouri State University sued the university because he was denied his master's degree on the basis of his religious beliefs. The student, Andrew Cash, was working towards his master's degree in counseling. During a presentation, Cash was given hypothetical scenarios which included the situation of counseling homosexual couples with their relationship issues. Cash said that he would not be willing to counsel this hypothetical couple due to his sincerely held religious beliefs about homosexuality. His Christian faith expresses the belief that a marriage should be between one woman and one man, therefore he does not want to counsel a couple that goes against these religious values. Shortly after Cash made this comment, he was denied his master's degree due to "ethical reasons". The school told Cash that his statement goes against the American Counseling Association's code of ethics.

The lawsuit against Missouri State says that Cash was "targeted and punished for expression his Christian worldview". The University notes that they have a strict policy of nondiscrimination, including on the basis of religion. This raises the important question of whether or not denying Andrew Cash his master's degree, which has cost him a lot of money, time and energy, is constitutional under the first amendment. Is this act a violation of the free exercise clause?
In defense of the University, Cash's opinions about consoling gay couples do go against their anti discrimination policy. On the mere premise of this university wide policy, Cash does violate certain expectations. Also, the university is not explicitly telling Cash that he cannot embrace his religious beliefs and put them into practice. They are only saying that his actions are not in line with the university's policies and that they are not appropriate for the setting that he was in. The university does not see this as a violation of Cash's free exercise of religion.

However, because this is a matter of religion which is protected by the constitution, Cash should not have faced the consequences that he did. Not only is Cash being punished for following his religious beliefs, but he is facing consequences that extend farther than just a violation of his free exercise rights. Cash spent years in school studying to become a counselor. This obviously adds up to a lot of money spent on tuition that was essentially useless to Cash because he did not obtain the degree that he worked so hard for. This is an economic burden on Cash in addition to the burden on his free exercise rights. I personally believe that Cash should not have been denied his master's degree for verbalizing his religious beliefs. Although Cash's beliefs may go against university policy, the constitution overrides that policy and Cash's rights should be defended. There is a substantial economic burden placed on Cash as well as a clear discrimination against his ideals because of their religious affiliation. What Cash plans on doing with his degree after he obtains it does not reflect the university and it's policies. Cash was talking about a hypothetical situation and did nothing to directly violate the university's policy. Cash's free exercise rights are certainly being unconstitutionally violated.

What do you think? Did Cash deserve to be denied his master's degree or does the first amendment protect him?

9 comments:

Caroline Vauzelle said...

I agree with you that the consequences the student is facing after talking about his beliefs are disproportionate. If the opinion he exposed was not in adequacy with the training he received in counseling in this university, it was possible for his professors to indicate in their feedback that this might be an issue during his professional career, depending on in which state he decides to practice his job. However, I do not think that a fundamentalist Muslim man training to become a driving instructor would be given the certification if he says that he will not deliver driving licenses to women. This is obviously a completely hypothetical case, but I just want to stress out the fact that the situation of this student is not a problem as easy to decide on as it may seem from our particular cultural point of view.

Natalie K. said...

I agree with your position on this issue, and I believe that the reason why his free exercise rights are being violated is because of the hypothetical nature of the situation. Although the university has a policy of nondiscrimination, including on the basis of religion, and Cash's religious views go against this policy, the university has no right to infringe on the means in which Cash wishes to go about his professional career. If he was doing a work-study program while he was pursing his masters in counseling at the university, and was faced with counseling a gay couple, then he would have to abide by the university's strict policies. However, since this pertains to his life after graduate school, he is free to practice his counseling however he wants to.

Thomas M. said...

I sympathize with Mr. Cash because obviously the time and money that go into pursuing a master's degree are substantial. I disagree with his views on homosexuality, but the main issue for me legally is that refusing to counsel homosexual couples means that Mr. Cash would not be able to fully complete his intended profession. The Ten Commandment's instructs followers of Christianity to not kill, but many prison programs include counseling for its prisoners, including murderers. Would Mr. Cash also refuse to counsel criminals because the Bible is anti-crime? Offering counseling to homosexual couples does not have to mean that you support homosexuality, just as giving offering counseling to criminals does not mean that you support crime. I do not see this case as being a violation of free exercise rights, more as being religion impeding Mr. Cash from being able to fully do the profession he intends to enter.

Kiriko Masek said...

I agree with Lauren's position on this case. Gay couples are not accepted in Cash's religious beliefs and therefore his free exercise rights would be violated if he were to accept the couple for who they are and aid them by counseling them. Yes, Cash's views towards homosexual couples violates the universities code of conduct towards discrimination but Natalie made a great point by saying that he is preparing for a career that is outside of the university. If Cash were to receive his degree, he could be a counselor solely for those of Christian if he so wished to do so. By forcing Cash to go against his religion and counsel a gay couple, the university is infringing upon Cash's free exercise rights.

Alex Puleo said...

I agree with Lauren. Due to his religious beliefs, counseling gay couples is not within question for Cash, and due to this belief, he should not be denied his degree. In addition, Cash made it clear that he would not be practicing on campus, and thus, is not violating their non-discrimination policy. Forcing Cash to counsel gay couples directly violates his free exercise rights. Again, the argument may be made in regards to where a gay couple may receive counseling if Cash were to turn them away. However, one must take into account the fact that if word spreads that Cash does not cater to gay couples, it is likely that gay couples will not approach Cash for counseling purposes.

Sedona Boyatzis said...

I agree with the previous sentiments in this case. I think it is important to note that Cash was given a hypothetical situation in which he chose to answer based on his religious beliefs. This included no action whatsoever, and that is the main reason why I believe Cash was not infringing upon the school's anti-discrimination policy. The amount of time and money that the school cost Cash because of this hypothetical question is utterly disgraceful, especially because Cash showed no discriminatory action up until this point, and not even at this point, as he was speaking hypothetically. I see no reason why Cash does not deserve to win this case for damages and infringement upon his free exercise of religion.

Rosalie said...

I would side with the school in this case. It is within the school's interest to not have graduates who are homophobic, and they have the right to deny a homophobic person the privilege to potentially treat someone in the LGBT community. While religious freedoms are important, when religious freedom is used to discriminate against others about something they cannot change about themselves.

Maddie G said...

This issue is really tricky because his religious beliefs could potentially prevent him from doing his job. I think that it is important to note that he was punished for what I would argue is religious speech, not religious action, so the University in this case by refusing him a degree is essentially censoring his speech based on it's religious content, which is unconstitutional.

Matthew L. said...

I agree with your decision that the University is unable to take action against Cash because of his decisions made with regard to his deeply held religious beliefs. By denying him his religious freedoms, the University, a public university, was acting against the Constitution and should, in the end, award Cash his degree as he qualifies in every regard beyond his beliefs on homosexual couples. If the University were not to do this, I believe that the actions taken, including the timing of them, as well as the financial burden that they placed on Cash, would be held as un-Constitutional.