July 27, 2010— -- A Georgia student studying counseling says her university went too far in requiring her to change her Christian beliefs on homosexuality before she's allowed to graduate.
Backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, Jennifer Keeton has filed suit against Augusta State University after, she said, school officials threatened to dismiss her from its counseling program when she refused to participate in a "remediation" plan to increase her tolerance of gays and lesbians after she made it known that she believed homosexuality was a personal choice.
According to the lawsuit, filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, school officials told Keeton that she was failing to conform to professional standards because of her views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Click here to read Jennifer Keeton's complaint against August State University.
"Jen has voiced disagreement in several class discussions and in written assignments with the gay and lesbian 'lifestyle,'" read the university's remediation plan, as quoted in the lawsuit. "She stated in one paper that she believes GLBTQ 'lifestyles' to be identity confusion."
"Faculty have also received unsolicited reports from another student that [Miss Keeton] has relayed her interest in conversion therapy for GLBTQ populations," the lawsuit's quotation of the plan continued, "and she has tried to convince other students to support and believe her views."
The remediation plan, according to court documents, included attending three workshops on diversity, a monthly two-page reflection on what she has learned from research into LGBT counseling issues, and increased exposure to gay populations. The latter action came with the suggestion that she attend Augusta's gay pride parade.
A second portion of the remediation plan includes more work to improve Keeton's writing skills.
David French, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund and also director of its Center for Academic Freedom, told ABCNews.com that the lawsuit on Keeton's behalf is one of about a half-dozen similiar cases involving counseling or social work students in the last few years.
"It's an emerging issue, without question," he said. Requiring a student to change his or her beliefs to graduate is "punishment of free speech."
"That is not the role of the state and it is not within the power of the state," he said.
Augusta State University declined to make school officials available for comment, and did not immediately provide a statement.