Thought Control at Augusta State University

by HERBERT LONDON August 11, 2010
It often seems as if political correctness hasn’t any boundaries. Recently an Augusta State University counseling student filed a lawsuit against her university claiming it violated her First Amendment rights when she was allegedly told to change her traditional Christian views on homosexuality or leave.
 
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed suit on behalf of Jennifer Keaton seeking to prevent the expulsion from her master’s degree program.
 
According to David French, the ADF attorney representing Keaton, “They (college officials) made a cascading series of presumptions about the kind of a counselor she would be and have consequently… tried to force her to change her beliefs. It’s symbolic of an educational system that has lost its way.”
 
The suit claims that program officials were upset that Ms. Keaton stated her belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not a “state of living.” According to the suit, the university wants her to undergo “thought reform” intended to alter her perception. Most significantly, she faces expulsion unless she complies.
 
To exacerbate matters within the department, Ms. Keaton argued the “conversion therapy” for homosexuals should be entertained, a point of view that departed significantly from accepted norms within the program and according to program officials, from “psychological research.”  It is noteworthy that the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) defends the practice Keaton advocates and notes opponents of conversion therapy are often criticized by politically motivated biases, albeit, in fairness, the reverse accusation might also be made.
 
The Augusta State University counseling program required Ms. Keaton to attend at least three pro-gay sensitivity training courses, read pro-gay peer reviewed journals and participate in Augusta’s gay pride parade. She was also asked to familiarize herself with the Association of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Issues in “Counseling” webpage, which defines homosexual behavior as healthy and an appropriate way of life. In addition, her professors required “a two page reflection” each month on how her participation in pro-gay activities “has influenced her beliefs” and how future clients might benefit from her experience.
 
Without getting into the merits of the case and the claims in the lawsuit, it seems to me that if even a portion of the allegation is accurate the Augusta counseling program is engaged in a form of thought control that hasn’t any place in the Academy. As I see it, if there are diametrically different positions on the nature – nurture argument regarding homosexuality both points of view – with empirical evidence marshaled for each side – should be entertained and given a fair hearing. It is not as if one position is dispositive, notwithstanding the position taken by the counseling program.
 
In far too many instances a university orthodoxy is confused with the rational exegesis of an idea. Proponents of the orthodoxy act as if they are the American version of the Red Guard, incapable of even giving a fair hearing to an alternative point of view; in fact, often going to the extreme of requiring a reeducation program.
 
Here is the rub: university life predicated on the free and open exchange of opinion has often become a filtering mechanism for politically correct ideas. Those who do not share this view are chastised or, in Ms. Keaton’s case, put through a thought control exercise.
 
It is interesting that Ms. Keaton’s religiously based view of homosexuality is disregarded, even though one could argue her First Amendment rights are being violated. In the way the university is constituted today, some designated groups have more rights than others. You don’t need a program to know which groups fall into that category; the university catalogue is likely to offer that information.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books).
 
 

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