If he’d only lied, aspiring counselor Andrew Cash could have avoided being expelled from the Missouri State University (MSU) graduate program in 2014.
Five years earlier Julea Ward, another aspiring counselor who was a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, Mich., was also expelled from her counseling program. Her offense: Based on her Christian beliefs about sexuality and marriage, she referred a homosexual client to another counselor who shared the client’s values. As a result, she faced a three-year legal battle to be readmitted to the program, ending happily with her triumph after a favorable review in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012.
Despite Ward’s precedent-setting victory, 46-year-old Cash also faced expulsion, and he is now fighting the same battle, for the same reasons—except that in his case, he didn’t even have to refer a client to someone else. All he did was tell administrators he’d take the same path Ward had if put in a similar situation, based on his beliefs.
“If I was just concerned about getting my degree and graduating, I could have just lied,” Cash tells Citizen.
The irony of the situation is not lost on Cash’s attorney, Tom Olp of the Thomas More Society, a national public-interest law firm based in Chicago, Ill.
“What’s the purpose of a university, but to explore ideas and expand your mind?” he asks. “The problem with MSU was that they would hear anything but a Christian point of view.”
Over the last few years, concern that the counseling guild is growing belligerent toward Christians in the profession has expanded—all the more as a “new orthodoxy” about human sexuality and gender spreads through American culture.
A Passion for Counseling
It’s no surprise that a Christian worldview would impact Cash’s thoughts about counseling. A native Missourian, he was raised with a biblical outlook.
“That’s always how I’ve lived my life, based on Christian values, a Christian worldview,” he says. “That’s engrained in me.”
After high school, Cash earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources, with a minor in Psychology and Bible, from a Christian college—Harding University in Searcy, Ark.—in 1993. Later, while serving as a campus minister at MSU for the nearby East Sunshine Church of Christ from 1997-2003, he discovered he had a passion for counseling.
It was first ignited when a pair of students asked him to provide pre-marital counseling; a short training program affirmed his desire to be a counselor.
“It provoked a thought that I’d always had that I had never put my finger on,” he explains. “‘I really enjoy working with people. I really want to be a part of helping and healing relationships, behaviors, people who want to change.’ That struck a compassionate side of me.”
“So, in late 2007, Cash enrolled in a graduate-level counseling program at MSU and successfully completed most of his coursework by 2010. He needed only to do his clinical internship, write one research paper and take his comprehensive exams to graduate.
Despite his success in the program, Cash had noticed through the years that some MSU faculty members and students displayed a critical attitude toward Christians in helping professions like counseling.
In fact, the year before he enrolled, an undergraduate student named Emily Brooker had sued the university, claiming faculty members had trampled on her First Amendment rights. Professor Frank Kauffman had called upon Brooker and other students to write a letter to the Missouri Legislature, advocating for homosexual adoption.
Brooker refused to sign the letter because of her Christian beliefs about human sexuality. As a result, the professor filed a grievance against her, and she was later interrogated for more than two hours by a specially formed “ethics” committee—a meeting which neither an attorney nor her parents were allowed to attend. The committee grilled Brooker with questions like, “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?”
“Being a Christian shouldn’t make you a second-class citizen on a college campus,” explains former Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel David French, who represented Brooker. “Instead of being a marketplace of ideas, some professors try to silence or even punish students whose beliefs do not conform to their personal worldview.”
Fortunately for Brooker, MSU quickly settled the case out of court, ultimately firing four tenured professors and moving four others to different departments after an investigation.
But, unfortunately for Cash, being a Christian could still make someone a “second-class citizen” in MSU’s counseling department.
When he shared his convictions about sexuality and marriage in April 2011, “the whole environment changed at the university,” says Olp. “All the sudden, you’re like a pariah. And it’s difficult to perform well when people are looking at you like a pariah.”
In early 2011, Cash began an MSU-approved internship at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI)—a Christian organization and, at the time, one of the only counseling centers in the area to focus on marriage and family therapy. Over the course of the semester, he completed 51 of his required 240 clinical hours at SMFI.
Then, in April, he was scheduled to organize a presentation for his fellow students on any topic related to counseling. With his professor’s permission, he decided to hold his presentation on site at the SMFI and to have its executive director, W. K. Boyce, discuss the unique contribution of Christian counseling to the field—a topic rarely addressed at MSU.
The presentation went well, and students were impressed by the SMFI facility, Cash recalls. But, during a question-and-answer session afterward, an openly homosexual student asked Boyce a hypothetical question: Would he and other counselors at the SMFI accept a homosexual couple as clients?
Boyce said he would counsel homosexuals individually, but because of his Christian beliefs he would refer homosexual couples to a counselor who shared the couple’s values.
During class the next week, that response sparked a “lively discussion” that lasted for most of the period. Late that night, Cash received an email from Kristi Perryman, his academic advisor and the internship coordinator for MSU’s counseling program: They needed to meet “in person as soon as possible,” she wrote, to discuss his internship at SMFI.
The following day, he met with Perryman.
“I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” Cash recalls. “But I had a feeling it was not going to go well.”
During the meeting, Perryman asked Cash point-blank if he would counsel homosexuals. He said that, because of his religious beliefs, he could do so with individuals regarding issues like depression or anxiety—but he couldn’t counsel a homosexual couple about their relationship. His religious values wouldn’t allow this, and the clients would be better served by someone who shared their beliefs about human sexuality and gender. He would, therefore, refer homosexual couples to other counselors.
Perryman said that was discriminatory, and conflicted with the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics. She then told him he couldn’t return to SMFI, that none of his work there would count toward his degree program, and that he could find a new internship site in which to start over.
But before any of that could take place, he had to read an article titled “Implications for Refusing to Counsel Homosexual Relationships” and write a review of it. In an email, Perryman told Cash she would let him remain in the internship program if she saw he “had learned from this experience.”
Cash agreed to review the paper, and Perryman
accepted his review. She believed Cash had changed his mind about counseling homosexual couples. In reality, he had not.
“I said that all clients have the right to counseling,” Cash tells Citizen. “I didn’t say, ‘from every counselor.’”
Meanwhile, Cash continued to argue that his internship hours at SMFI were valid. So Perryman told faculty members he had apparently regressed to supporting his earlier “inappropriate” views, according to court records.
As a result, Cash’s case came before a committee of faculty members in early 2013, who decided he could remain in MSU’s counseling program if he attended 10 counseling sessions to address “countertransference issues”—that is, issues regarding his viewpoint on counseling homosexual couples. He also would need to audit two counseling courses he’d already passed with flying colors. If he made it through this remediation program, they said, he could again pursue his clinical internship—starting from scratch.
“Perryman had such influence that she could do what she wanted, and she was very hostile,” Olp tells Citizen. “And that infected the whole relationship the school had with Andrew thereafter.”
From 2012 until he was finally expelled in 2014, Cash appealed to MSU’s administration for redress— his appeals were denied.
“Life was not good. That is an understatement. It was horrible,” Cash says. “I felt the pressure, the scrutiny, the humiliation.”
Since his expulsion, Cash has looked for other avenues to fulfill his dream of becoming a licensed counselor, but with little success. Only 14 of his credit hours from MSU will transfer to other schools, and because of family concerns he can’t move away from Springfield.
But he continues to work toward his dream, having passed the National Counselor Exam for Licensure and Certification last year.
And he continues to fight for his religious freedom—a fight Julea Ward says is worth it.
A Battle Won
Ward gained her court victory a year after Cash’s struggle began. And in retrospect, she’s glad she didn’t back down.
“Taking a stand meant a sacrifice, professionally and academically, but for me what is always the most important is my relationship with Christ,” Ward tells Citizen.
Especially as homosexuality and leftist views about gender gain popularity in Western society, Christian counselors need to understand her victory didn’t end the struggle for academic acceptance.
“It’s not over by a long shot,” she says. “All we’ve got to do is to see what’s happening in the culture to know it’s not over.”
In fact, according to ADF attorney Jeremy Tedesco, who represented Ward, the challenges Christian counselors face today are “far more drastic” because of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
“Now is not the time for faithful Christians to retreat,” he says. “We have never seen this kind of hostility to faithfully living out your life in Christ like we do today in society. The quicker people understand that threat—that the other side doesn’t have a compromising bone in their body—the more urgently and effectively we can respond to it.
“Whether American Christianity wants to accept it or not,” he adds, “it needs more Julea Wards.”
And, indeed, American counselors need more Andrew Cashes—Christians who won’t be silent, who won’t lie to avoid consequences, and who who will declare and defend their convictions.
For More Information:
To learn more about Andrew Cash’s lawsuit, read the Thomas More Society’s lawsuit at http://bit.ly/2b9IJPE. To learn about Julea Ward’s battle for religious liberty, visit http://bit.ly/2bmb3iu. To read more about Emily Brooker’s lawsuit against MSU, visit http://bit.ly/2aNmttx.
Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Citizen magazine.