APA Responds to "Conscience Clauses" in Professional Training

On March 1, 2013, a working group of the APA Board of Educational Affairs issued the statement, Preparing Professional Psychologists to Serve a Diverse Pubic: A Core Requirement in Doctoral Education Training, in response to recent legal challenges and state legislative efforts to interfere with counseling program training standards for professional competence. The working group is developing additional resources and strategies to address the issue, which will be announced as they become available.


In 2009, a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Julea Ward, was enrolled in a counseling practicum and refused to provide services to gay male client who was seeking counseling regarding a same-sex relationship. The student declined remediation, was expelled from the graduate program for violation of code of ethics, then filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming unconstitutional infringement by the university on her freedom of religion. In July 2010, a graduate student at Augusta State University, Jennifer Keeton, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court case against the university claiming infringement on her freedom of religion by requiring her to conform to program requirements that were related to the ethical code of the counseling profession for which she was being trained. She said she would not condone the propriety of homosexual relations or a homosexual identity in a counseling situation. In both cases, the courts upheld the right of the universities to establish the curricular requirements of their counseling programs.


The issue is also playing out in a number of state legislatures around the country. In early 2011, psychology educators in Arizona brought to APA's attention legislation proposed there titled "Rights of students at universities and community colleges." The APA and the Arizona Psychological Association wrote to the governor of Arizona to oppose the legislation, but it was signed into law. 

Similar legislation named the "Julea Ward freedom of conscience act" was adopted by the Michigan Senate in June 2011, with a different version adopted by the House in June 2012, which went back to the Senate for review. The Michigan Psychological Association and the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy actively opposed the legislation.