Missouri State University officials just agreed to pay $25,000 to a former student who sued the school after he was removed from a master's degree counseling program, because he said he wouldn't counsel gay couples. Andrew Cash sued the university last April, claiming in the lawsuit he was "targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview." However, his personal religious stance presented professional issues, given the national counselors' code of ethics.
The settlement with the Missouri State University Board of Governors was final last month but reported Monday after The Springfield News-Leader submitted an open records request.
Cash said in his lawsuit that he was removed from the counseling program in 2014 after he tried to complete his internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian-based counseling agency, and after told a class he couldn't counsel gay couples. His internship coordinator, Kristi Perryman, reportedly told Cash his refusal to work with gay couples went against the American Counseling Association's code of ethics, and he couldn't continue his internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute because of "ethical concerns," according to the lawsuit.
Cash said he told a professor in 2011 he would not counsel gay couples, according to an April 2016 Fox News report. Cash started the program in 2007.
The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit during April 2016 on behalf of Cash. The lawsuit in federal court in Springfield named the university's board of governors and several school officials as defendants. It claimed the university denied Cash's rights to religion and free speech and sought monetary and punitive damages.
The University's policy "strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or any other protected class."
According to the original 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 response to a question during that presentation, Boyce 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 said 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.
Although Cash said he worked with the University administration to find a different internship, he was required to redo certain coursework he previously completed. It was determined the 51 clinical hours completed at Springfield Marriage and Family Institute would not count toward the 240 face-to-face hours he needed to graduate. After numerous appeals to higher levels of the Missouri State University administrators, Cash was notified in November 2014 that he was being removed from the program.
The $25,000 is the estimated cost for Cash to obtain a master's degree at another university.
University spokeswoman Suzanne Shaw said the settlement will be paid from the state's legal defense fund, report the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The settlement prevents Cash from seeking admission or employment at Missouri State, and the university did not admit liability.
Cash, 46, was placed on a remediation plan, and told that his internship hours at the institute would not count. In November 2014, he was removed from the master's program despite having a 3.81 GPA, according to the lawsuit.
"We are honored to have represented Andrew Cash in his quest to serve others with professional counseling, while maintaining his religious convictions. His religious convictions are protected by the U.S. Constitution and should have been respected in an academic environment," said Thomas More Society attorney Thomas Olp. "The good news is that we helped Andrew Cash move on with his life to pursue a degree at a university that respects his rights of conscience."
Missouri State's Counseling Program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body that uses rigorous scrutiny. CACREP standards require program objectives "reflect current knowledge and projected needs concerning counseling practice in a multicultural and pluralistic society," and that students develop "multicultural counseling competencies" and learn about "the unique needs and characteristics of multicultural and diverse populations."
"Multicultural," according to the standards, includes diversity in terms of sexual orientation and religious and spiritual beliefs, reports ThinkProgress.
In 2006, the university paid about $27,000 to another student, Emily Brooker, who accused the School of Social Work and a faculty member of violating her First Amendment rights when she refused to sign a letter supporting same-sex adoption.