A former Missouri State University graduate student who was kicked out of a master's program because he said counseling gay couples violated his religious beliefs is now suing the school.
Andrew Cash, 46, 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 because of his Biblical views regarding marriage, but would counsel gay-identifying individuals.
Cash, who began the program in 2007, had a 3.81-grade point average and was a student in good standing with the school, says he was "targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling to a gay/homosexual couple."
The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Cash, claiming the university denied his rights to religion and free speech.
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 which he 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 echoed Boyce's sentiment, saying 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.
The lawsuit alleges that the university's internship coordinator, Dr. Kristi Perryman, told Cash that his views violated the code of ethics of the American Counseling Association and subsequently canceled his internship.
"It made me angry," attorney Tom Olp with the Thomas More Society told Fox News contributor Todd Starnes. "She took offense at his religious beliefs and then essentially kept dwelling on those until he was drummed out of the program."
The school then placed Cash on a remediation plan that required him to attend counseling sessions, audit two courses he had already passed and completed a self-assessment, according to the lawsuit. After appealing the matter, Cash was permanently removed from the program in November 2014.
The lawsuits seek unspecified monetary and punitive damages, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Cash hopes to be re-admitted to the program so he can finish his studies and obtain his degree.
"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," reads the lawsuit.
The Daily Beast notes that while MSU has not commented 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.