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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Case of Jennifer Keeton

Have you heard of the case of Jennifer Keeton v Augusta State University? (I made the name up; don't look for it in any legal listings.) Back in 2010, Keeton was a Christian grad student in Georgia at Augusta State University training to become a counselor. She expressed openly that she believed homosexual behavior was immoral. She was told that, in order to graduate from their program, she would need to change her "central religious beliefs on human nature and conduct". Now, admittedly, that sounds bad. But consider. The school she was attending had a Code of Ethics in place that required that "Counselors do not discriminate" based on a variety of factors including "gender identity and sexual orientation". So the school told her she could take remediation training or they would expel her. She refused. They expelled her. She sued. She claimed her rights to religious freedom and free speech were violated. She lost.

There are so many problems here. There is the statement of Judge J. Randall Hall (a George W. Bush appointee): "Keeton’s conflation of personal and professional values, or at least her difficulty in discerning the difference, appears to have been rooted in her opinion that the immorality of homosexual relations is a matter of objective and absolute moral truth." By dissolving all "objective and absolute moral truth" the judge has effectively dissolved the basis for laws and justice at all. Now we're left with "How do you feel about morality today?" Good job, judge.

There is the fact that Keeton (and Julia Ward in a similar case in Michigan) was told she was required by law to change her behavior without necessarily changing their beliefs seems to be a direct contradiction to the whole "gay agenda" argument that they shouldn't have to change their behavior. I mean, if you can keep your beliefs but change your behavior, can't they do the same? Are they arguing that your behavior is a choice?

I also think that Keeton's lawsuit was problematic. If School A says, "To go here, you must conform with these rules" and a student chooses to go there and not conform to their rules, doesn't the school have the right to expel that student? Conversely, Keeton claimed her rights to free speech and religion were violated. Why? Did someone tell her she could no longer say or believe what she wanted? They said, "You can't do it here", but that doesn't equate to "You can't do it at all", does it? Indeed, we would hope that's not the case because it will come back around to bite us if she's right. An atheist can complain about religious discrimination if a church refuses to hire him because he's an atheist. Be careful! If Keeton wanted to become a counselor and wanted to maintain Christian values in so doing, there are options for such training without subjecting herself to the public education system. She chose that course. She must expect to abide by its rules or change courses.

Equally problematic, though, is the backlash. Keeton ( is being crucified as "anti-gay", "mean-spirited", and a "bigot". Anyone who believes as she does is "narrow-minded" and, quite frankly, too stupid to be allowed to be in that field (or, perhaps, even in the public arena). Perhaps the school didn't violate her constitutional rights, but a large segment of the public would sure like to do just that. If you search you'll find accusations that she "refused to counsel homosexuals" which seems like an incredibly stupid accusation. I mean, if she was opposed to their behavior so chose to refuse to deal with them, wouldn't that insulate them? No, the real "fear" was that she would treat them and she would treat them by trying to change their behavior. So, which is it? She refused, or she didn't?

And then there is the whole basic problem being ignored completely by the judge, the media, and the commenters alike. What if she's right? What if the behavior in question is immoral? What if it really is a bad thing? I mean, if she had a patient come to her that said, "I have this problem; I'm a compulsive gambler", would she not be obligated to help him/her stop that behavior and even be applauded for it? If the behavior is immoral and, therefore, harmful, why shouldn't she step in to help? But, you see, no one is asking that question. No one is willing to examine "Is that moral view correct?" Not asked and not answered. Remember, the judge threw out "absolute moral truth". So the serious potential for continued harm and even the encouragement to continue that harm is becoming institutionalized and legislated. That is a problem.

One last thought here. These have been my thoughts on Jennifer Keeton's case. Please note that I have not included a label for "Homosexuality" or the like. The tendency here will be to discuss the morality of homosexual behavior. Not the point. The primary questions are these:
1. Is there truly no such thing as objective and absolute moral truth?
2. Does one side of the question have to change their behavior against their beliefs or can the other? (That is, it appears it is a one-sided question.)
3. Does an entity (a school, a business, etc.) have the right to hold and enforce their own rules, or are they obligated to allow anyone at all to make their rules for them?
4. How do we avoid the misplaced and horribly inaccurate responses to events like these and the serious danger these responses carry with them?
5. What if Christian morality is right?
None of these questions require a debate on the morality of homosexual behavior. This is a much broader question including much bigger problems for our society in general and Christians in particular.


Dan said...

You could have labeled it Cognitive Dissonance.. because it is.

Good questions. I like 3. The answer at large is, yes, as long as the entity holds to the judges way of seeing things, that it is absolutely wrong to appeal to absolutes.

Stan said...

I'm more cautious. Assuming the entity in question is, say, a Christian school that indeed holds that there is absolute morality and that absolute morality forbids them from, say, hiring an atheist teacher, if they do not have the right to hold and enforce that rule, they will be forced to hire that atheist. And I don't see that as a purely "theoretical" notion. I suspect it's just around the corner. "There are no absolutes ... but we are absolutely sure that you can't discriminate on the basis of religion (or the lack thereof), so you'll be required to hire him" (or pay for abortions or provide contraception or ...).

Dan said...

However the secular school will be allowed to discriminate against those hold to the idea that their religion is not subject to the arbitrary whims of a particular age. There is, and increasingly will be, a double and dissonant standard.

David said...

1. I'm guessing the judicial branch is leaning further and further away from any absolute moral truth, even though our laws were founded on the basis that there is absolute moral truth.
2. How dare you bring logic into a debate :) I'm guessing they would argue that the issues is separate, at least that way they can argue that people need to believe as they do, and not realize they are ignoring their own standard.
3. I think at the moment, yes. But that is clearly degrading rapidly in the case of Christian institutions. Eventually, only the state run facilities will be able to do this, while private facilities will have to abide by public opinion.
4. Do as you have done here and clearly delineate the questions to be discussed. Unfortunately, as a whole, we are an emotionally reactionary society. As K said in the first MiB, "Individuals are able to think, but mobs only react" (or something to that effect). Unfortunately, the internet with its anonymity seems to create its own kind of mob mentality.
5. If Christian morality is right, then we are well on our way to going the way of the Roman Empire, collapsing under our own moral depravity.

Stan said...

Has it really come to this, where we're gathering our wise sayings from movies about aliens? Sigh. :)

Although, I suspect K was slightly optimistic. Perhaps individuals are able to think, but it seems like they are using that ability less and less.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

1. NO. There is indeed an absolute objective and moral truth.

2. The one side which is behaving against objective moral truth is the one which should change behavior.

3. A school certainly has the right to enforce their own rules. If you disagree with the rules, then don’t attend.

4. You can’t avoid such responses because the “anointed” are in charge and they do not agree that objective moral truth exists.

5. Christian morality IS right, and it is the only thing keeping society from complete collapse.

Stan said...

I suppose that last question, "What if Christian morality is right?", is a question for those who are complaining that we're sticking to it. It seems quite clear that, while those around us are complaining that we're asserting our moral values, almost no one is asking, "But, are those values true?" You see, if we are right and if Christian morality is correct, the consequences are eternal. Big problem. A problem they are not considering. Because morality today is primarily determined by "what I want to do".

Marshall Art said...

A couple of things (or more---we'll see)

As was suggested, our nation was indeed founded on absolutes, such as the absolute that our rights were bestowed upon us by God, or our Creator. From this springs so much that is now in jeopardy by rulings such as those inflicted upon the woman depicted above.

The problem is that there are enumerated rights of hers that are being denied. However, the fact that the institution in question has their own rules is a right of theirs, to live and work as they see fit and unfortunately, she's run afoul of their wacky rules.

In this, I think of Rand Paul who took heat when suggesting the civil rights actions of our government went too far in mandating that private businesses be prohibited from discriminating. While it is unseemly for the owner of a diner to deny service to a black man simply for being a black man, I have no problem with the owner having that right to decide with whom he can do business.

Now, with that right denied, a Christian is unable to turn away business that is direct conflict with the Christian's faith. The "UN"enumerated "right" to expect service trumps the Christian's right to live out his faith.

(Keep in mind as I say all this that I do not believe anyone has the right to act or not act when another is in danger. Not helping a black man hit by a car, for example, is akin to murder if withholding aid leads to his death.)

As to "what if Christian morality is right?", there are two problems here. First, is getting non-Christians to take the time to research such a thing (separation of church and state and all), and secondly, we both know how some who claim to be Christians have very different ideas on the subject of morality.

Stan said...

I've wondered how a genuine free market business atmosphere would function. What I'd like to see is a business who, being private, has the right to discriminate on whatever basis they choose. (That's not the end of the thought.) I'd like to see a business, then, driven by a free market, so that when the market finds their discrimination (for whatever reason they chose) unbearable, the market would put them out of business. I suppose that would work if the market contained moral people. It doesn't. Pipe dream.

On Christian morality, yes, indeed, there is a variety of notions on what "Christians" classify as "moral". But that is, actually, exactly the point. Is there absolute morality? If so, does Christian morality comply? (That is not the same thing as "Do all Christians agree?") Assuming that there is absolute morality and that Christian morality represents absolute morality, the trick then is to examine individual items and views. "Does this person align with it? Does this view align with it?" Or, the other question I'm begging to be asked, "Is it true?" For "Christians", for instance, to argue that homosexual behavior is perfecly moral requires an denial of very plain Scripture. Let's label that, then, "false". Christian morality would say that homosexual behavior is sin while "Christian" morality (that held in error by some who call themselves "Christian") would not. Since these are not the same thing, we're back to "What if Christian morality (as opposed to "Christian" morality) is right?" (I believe, by the way, that there is a much larger set of moral absolutes agreed upon by genuine Christians than not.)

Marshall Art said...

I think that regardless of how moral people are, that genuine freedom is still superior to what we have now and is closer to what the founders intended as far as what a free market (thought they didn't use the term) would mean in practice. On one hand, certain businesses might continue to exist or even thrive due to enough "less than moral" people patronizing their business. But they would be limited by the existence of those people with some moral backbone that wouldn't patronize them. This would be confounded when such a business is the only or best at what they do, providing no alternatives to a needed product or service for moral people. (As an example, I have difficulty when I am made aware of what a local business supports. If Home Depot supports the homosexual agenda, I may have to drive a good distance to the nearest Lowes or Menards and pay more for the same product. And that's provided Lowes and Menards does NOT support the homosexual agenda.)

Of course we can still voice our opposition to their support for such things while still getting what we need.

Still, the idea of equality is something that was intended for how the government does its business as far as applying the law.

As to Christians vs "Christians", simply the disagreements existing between the two would continue to exacerbate the situation, thus making moot the struggle to argue for the "rightness" with non-believers. We would then be forced to regard "Christians" as non-believers and deal with them on that same level.

Stan said...

Just a question, not an argument. Is it your belief that the difference between Christian and "Christian" nullifies the existence of absolute morality? (No, never mind, I'm sure I know your answer to that.) I would argue that the difference between the two still makes the question necessary -- perhaps more so. The answer, "Well, you guys don't agree" is, frankly, pretty stupid. Just because two people don't agree doesn't mean that there isn't a truth involved. The question still needs to be asked, "Is it true?" They're not asking.

Marshall Art said...

Oh yes, I totally agree with you here. (My answer is "No" BTW). My point was simply that the question "Is it true?" is a bigger and more difficult question to answer as a result. Thus, we pretty much are forced to regard the "Christians" as non-believers when dealing with that question.

Stan said...

On the matter of questioning the actual "Christian" status of a so-called "Christian" is something on which we agree.

For the skeptic, not all who bear the name offer a valid representation of the name, even if they are Christians. That seems obvious and present in all walks of life. Not all carpenters are good carpenters. Not all scientists are good scientists. Even a "genuine atheist" can present a position with which even "genuine atheists" disagree.