Volume 3, Number 8: A Discussion of the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience” bill

In this issue:

  • A discussion of the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience” bill
  • When is a Conversation a Powerful Tool? KUP
  • MPIPP joins Unity Michigan
  • Judith Kovach honored at fundraiser
  • MPIPP Volunteer: Judith Snow

SB 518. The “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience” bill

The proposed legislation: Senate bill 518, also known as the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience” bill would allow students enrolled in any institution of higher education in Michigan to refuse to counsel an individual as part of an academic social work, psychology, or counseling program based simply on the student’s religious belief or “moral conviction.” Furthermore, the faculty would be forbidden from disciplining such students, and higher education institutions that impose academic discipline (such as a lower grade) would be subjected to lawsuits, injunctions, and monetary relief (including attorney fees). In other words, students would enjoy enormous latitude to refuse to complete their academic assignments based solely on their personal beliefs.

The underlying lawsuit: The premise for this legislation is a lawsuit filed by Julea Ward. Ms. Ward, a student at Eastern Michigan University, was dismissed from the MA program in school counseling because she refused to counsel lesbian, gay and bisexual clients during her clinical training.

The Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and the National Association of Social Workers all require that providers do not allow personal beliefs to interfere with rendering care. Ms. Ward’s lawsuit alleging religious discrimination was dismissed by the federal court, which ruled that Ms. Ward “distorted the facts in this case to support her position that defendants dismissed her [from an academic counseling program] due to her religious beliefs.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard arguments on October 4th in this case and a decision is pending.

Key points of SB 518:

  • The bill would apply to all public and private colleges, universities, and community colleges, regardless of accreditation status.
  • The bill is not limited to counseling programs; it also applies to social work and psychology programs.
  • The bill is not limited to a student’s religious beliefs. It also allows a student to refuse to provide counseling based on a “moral conviction.” The bill therefore opens a wide door to permit students to refuse to complete their academic assignments.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected this framework by ruling that higher education faculty should be free to make “genuinely academic decisions” about a student’s compliance with an academic assignment. Regents of the Univ. of Michigan v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214, 225 (1985).

The American Psychological Association opposes any “conscience clause” legislation. In a briefing paper, APA stated that:

  • “Reducing descrimination in all spheres, including access to mental health services, is an important goal of APA. Another goal is the academic freedom of professional education and training programs in psychology to determine what knowledge and skills students need to acquire to meet the responsibilities of a practicing psychologist. We share these goals with the other mental health professions whose training programs are also targeted by Arizona and Michigan legislation.
  • The intrusion of state legislatures into the education and training of mental health professionals is very troubling to us. We see no justification for this action and are concerned about where it might lead. . . . The legislation in question places a barrier in the way of training students to fulfill what will ultimately be their ethical obligations regarding non-discrimination.
  • The Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation, as endorsed by the discipline of psychology, require psychology training programs to ensure that all students attain an understanding of cultural and individual diversity as related to both the science and practice of psychology (as well as their integration), along with the relevant skills and competencies to provide services to all segments of the general public.”

The provisions of SB 518 are in marked conflict with both the ethical principles of all mental health professionals and the standards for accreditation of professional education and training programs, which are designed to prepare our workforce to meet our nation’s increasingly diverse needs. The enactment of SB 518 could result in Michigan redefining the parameters of competence needed for the professions of psychology, social work and counseling and, in the process, endangering the accreditation of graduate programs.

In short, SB 518 raises issues of:

  • Academic freedom
  • Accreditation
  • Violation of all three professions’ codes of ethics
  • Social justice/anti-gay discrimination.

The Michigan Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers-MI and the Michigan Counseling Association are all opposed to this bill. MPIPP is prepared to use science-based data to weigh in on the implications of the bill’s provisions, perhaps as they relate to issues of social justice.

A copy of the bill can be seen at: http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2011-SB-0518.

When Is A Conversation a Powerful Tool?
KUP Conversations Harness the power of personal stories

The KNOW US PROJECT® training was built on contact theory (first proposed by Gordon Allport and later refined by researchers such as Greg Herek) that shows conversations between members of different groups help to reduce prejudice and stigma.

Dr. Richard Gibson, MPIPP’s project coordinator, is now working with numerous community organizations to help expand the grassroots support for non-discrimination public policy in Michigan. In addition to helping LGBT people and their allies to learn the importance of telling their stories to bring about change in public opinion and public policy, sponsoring organizations are finding that KUP training is a useful tool to help build their sense of community. For questions about KUP or to discuss possible sponsorship, please contactRichard@mpipp.org.

MPIPP is now working to improve our marketing materials for the program to make it very easy for organizations to publicize KUP training events for their members.

You can always find the current KUP training schedule by going to MPIPP’s website at: http://mpipp.org/kup-training-calendar.htm.

MPIPP joins Unity Michigan Coalition as a Partner

The Unity Michigan Coalition works to ensure that all Michiganders are treated fairly in the workplace by advancing nondiscrimination policies. The Unity Michigan Coalition includes the ACLU of Michigan, Affirmations, Equality Michigan, KICK, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, the the Ruth Ellis Center. Partner Organizations, such as MPIPP, are organizations invested in doing the programmatic work of the Unity Michigan Coalition and actively participating on a committee (Field, Legislative, Professional Development, Communication).

As a partner, MPIPP is assisting in providing social science research on LGBT issues to the Coalition members.

Kovach honored at MPA Foundation “Shine-a-Light on Mental Health” fundraiser

Dr. Judith Kovach was recently honored “for her fierce and compassionate advocacy for mental health and the profession of psychology as she retires after serving as Executive Director of the Michigan Psychological Association and Foundation for eight years and as MPA Director of Professional Affairs for fifteen years” by the Michigan Psychological Association Foundation.

Judith’s speech emphasized her commitment to social justice and equality. In part, she said, “There is now and probably will always be a struggle between oppressors and the oppressed and their allies and helpers. That struggle is about social justice. And social justice is about recognizing our common humanity, and learning humility about who we are.”

Judith added, “Stigma is how a society justifies lack of equal protection and rationalizes unequal treatment. . . . And I guess, in the final analysis, it’s about how outraged we are willing to get about stigma. Isn’t it time to shout ‘stop’? For a copy of Judith’s entirespeech, click here.

And for those who asked . . . Although Dr. Kovach is retiring as the Executive Director and Director of Public Affairs at the Michigan Psychological Association, she will continue as Project Director of MPIPP.

MPIPP Network Volunteer – Judith Snow, M.A.

Judith Snow has been a volunteer with MPIPP since its inception.Judith Snow, M.A.

She has a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Western Michigan University and has B.S. and B.A. degrees from Aquinas College.

Judith is a limited license psychologist and has a private practice in the Grand Rapids area. She is also a certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

Judith has been trained as a KNOW US PROJECT® facilitator and is now serving as a mental health co-facilitator for KUP trainings on the west side of the state.

Her areas of interest and expertise include:

  • As a long-time LGBT ally, social justice and therapy issues involving LGBT community
  • Domestic abuse, which she says is a wide-spread affliction that she sees in a variety of individuals in her practice.

Judith, what makes you happy?

Music, film, travel, spending time with loved ones, and successful outcomes.

What accomplishments are you most proud of to date?

Service: Contributing and hopefully making a difference in the lives of others.

I was also very happy about my book being published so the stories could be heard. There was little written for the sons and daughters of Lesbian and Gay parents so I obtained dozens of their stories and put them together in a book, How It Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent, A Book by Kids for Kids of All Ages, that was published by The Haworth Press in 2004.

In 2009 I founded the Association of Straight Allies that is essentially an on-line presence (associationofstraightallies.org) in support to the LGBT community. ASA also has a Facebook page with over 1,000 people in support.

Do you have any advice for others?

“Come to know MPIPP and the important work they’re doing in Michigan in support of the LGBT community and to please consider volunteering.”

Enjoyed computer games, stereos and home theater professional writing service systems.