University settles with Christian counseling student

Religious Liberty | Missouri school expelled Andrew Cash for his religious beliefs about sexuality
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 1/13/17, 02:19 pm

Missouri State University (MSU) says it will pay $25,000 to a former student who was expelled for his views on homosexuality. The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last April by Andrew Cash, a former MSU graduate student who alleges the university kicked him out of the master’s in counseling program because he expressed a religious objection to counseling same-sex couples.

The settlement was finalized last month but became public this week when the Springfield News-Leader reported on the agreement after an open records request.

The MSU Board of Governors will pay Cash $25,000 from the state of Missouri legal defense fund, an amount they said is “the estimated tuition cost for Cash to obtain a master’s degree in counseling from Evangel University or another similar institution.” The terms of the settlement state Cash cannot seek admission or employment with MSU and the university does not admit liability.

Cash began the Master of Science in Counseling program in 2007. In 2011, Cash started an internship with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI), a Christian counseling agency. The site was approved by the internship coordinator, Kristi Perryman. When Perryman learned that staff members at SMFI said they could not counsel gay couples because of their religious beliefs, she asked for a meeting with Cash.

When asked, Cash told her that he, too, would have to refer gay couples to another counselor due to his religious convictions about homosexuality. He said he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter—depression or anxiety, for example—but he could not counsel regarding same-sex relationships. Perryman said that conviction was a violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics. After months of back-and-forth between Cash and MSU, school officials expelled Cash from the program in November 2014. Cash had a 3.81 GPA and was almost finished with his degree. He appealed the decision, but was denied.

Cash filed a federal civil rights action complaint against MSU in April 2016 claiming the university violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free expression.

“We are honored to have represented Andrew Cash in his quest to serve others with professional counseling while maintaining his religious convictions,” said Thomas Olp, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Cash. “His religious convictions are protected by the U.S. Constitution and should have been respected in an academic environment.”

In 2006, MSU settled a similar case with another former student. Emily Brooker sued MSU soon after she graduated for violating her constitutional rights by requiring she support gay adoption and foster care as part of a mandatory class assignment. MSU settled the case and paid Brooker $27,000.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a WORLD Digital assistant editor and reports on marriage, family, and sexuality.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Fri, 01/13/2017 11:10 pm

    Good,in one sense but troubling are the expected numbers who simply comply to avoid any conflict.  Startling in the sense that the constitution seems so clear on this issue.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sat, 01/14/2017 01:20 pm

    I find this troubling on a number of grounds. First, MSU can continue to discriminate and teach their godless propaganda and all they have to do is pay a little fee to make the problem go away. I am reminded how the courts were able to force a baker to pay $135,000 fine because they did not want to participate in a homosexual wedding by baking their cake.  Now when it comes to religious rights, the punitive damages are nowhere near the same. If the baker had to pay $5 then that would be equivalent compared to the university.  Another concern is that this effectively allows them to get rid of the Christian problem and enable them to continue their propaganda campaign, which will only make it more difficult for Christians over time. Also, the Christian influence is removed which will better enable the indoctrination of the students.

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Sat, 01/14/2017 02:17 pm

    Unless a degree in counseling from MSU requires that you join the American Counseling Association or sign an agreement that you abide by their standards, I don't see how what the ACA says is relevant to him getting a degree from MSU in counseling. They might require that he be aware of and understand the ACA's standards, but not that he must agree with them. This would cause havoc in all sorts of fields. Suppose someone took a class in evolutionary theory. The person evidenced mastery in the subject, but would fail the course because this person didn't agree with everything taught in the course. I'm trying to imagine where in the coursework this might be relevant. Suppose there is a class in the relationship between the counselor and the patient. Suppose that someone grasps entirely what the course teaches and can evidence that understanding. Is it appropriate for a university to now ask, "Do you agree with and promise to conform to all the attitudes taught here?" I can imagine someone asking that. When you join an organization or are hired by some organization they might very well (and do) require such promises. But is it appropriate, esp. for a public university, to be requiring such promises. A public university does require that student behavior conform to some standard, a standard that may not be criminal. They may commonly deny certain free speech rights. Perhaps you are not permitted to make racist comments in the classroom. Even so, can they require that your throughts and beliefs be of a certain nature, independent of your actions? I don't understand exactly what MSU thinks they are affirming when they confer someone a degree in counseling, but it seems to me that they are going too far for a publicly funded program by requiring a litmus test on their beliefs. 

  • Fani's picture
    Posted: Sat, 01/14/2017 03:40 pm

    Beautifully and eloquently spoken!