KEETON v. ANDERSON-WILEY No. 10-13925.
664 F.3d 865 (2011)
Jennifer KEETON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Mary Jane ANDERSON-WILEY, Associate Professor, Augusta State University, Paulette Schenck, Assistant Professor, Richard Deaner, Assistant Professor, Wayne Lord, Chairman of Department of Educational Leadership, Counseling and Special Education, Gordon Eisenman, Dean of College of Education, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
December 16, 2011.
Jeffrey Shafer, Alliance Defense Fund, Washington, DC, Travis C. Barham, David Andrew Cortman, Alliance Defense Fund, Lawrenceville, GA, Charles C. Stebbins, III, Warlick, Tritt, Stebbins & Murray, LLP, Augusta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Meghan Robson Davidson, Nall & Miller, LLP, Cristina Correia, Samuel Scott Olens, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.
Chara Fisher Jackson, ACLU Foundation of Georgia, Inc., Gregory R. Nevins, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., Atlanta, GA, Eugene Volokh, Los Angeles, CA, Sara Ellyn Jeruss, Luann Simmons, Sarah Starcevich, O'Melveny & Myers, LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Amici Curiae.
Before BARKETT, PRYOR and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.
BARKETT, Circuit Judge.
Jennifer Keeton was enrolled in the Counselor Education Program at Augusta State University (ASU), a Georgia state school, seeking to obtain her master's degree in school counseling. After Keeton completed her first year in the program, ASU's officials asked her to participate in a remediation plan addressing what the faculty perceived as deficiencies in her "ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations."
I. Standard of Review
A district court may grant a preliminary injunction only when the moving party demonstrates: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that irreparable injury will be suffered unless the injunction is issued; (3) the threatened injury to the moving party outweighs whatever damage the proposed injunction might cause the non-moving party; and (4) if issued, the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc. v. MCIMetro Access Transmission Services, LLC,
In First Amendment cases, we review a district court's decision to grant or deny a preliminary injunction under a unique abuse of discretion standard. Questions of law are reviewed de novo. American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Inc. v. Miami-Dade Cnty. School Bd.,
The record, which at this stage of the proceedings consists of the verified complaint, the text of the remediation plan, correspondence between Keeton and ASU's officials, declarations of several ASU students and officials, and the testimony of several ASU officials offered at an evidentiary hearing on Keeton's motion for a preliminary injunction, shows the following.
In her brief, Keeton describes herself as a Christian who is committed to the truth of the Bible, including what she believes are its teachings on human nature, the purpose and meaning of life, and the ethical standards that govern human conduct. She holds several beliefs about homosexuality that she views as arising from her Christian faith. She believes that "sexual behavior is the result of personal choice for which individuals are accountable, not inevitable deterministic forces; that gender is fixed and binary (i.e., male or female), not a social construct or personal choice subject to individual change; and that homosexuality is a `lifestyle,' not a `state of being.'" ASU's officials became aware that Keeton held these beliefs when she expressed to professors in class and fellow classmates in and out of class that she believed that the GLBTQ population suffers from identity confusion, and that she intended to attempt to convert students from being homosexual to heterosexual. Keeton also said that it would be difficult for her to work with GLBTQ clients and to separate her views about homosexuality from her clients' views. Further, in answering a hypothetical posed by a faculty member, Keeton responded that as a high school counselor confronted by a sophomore student in crisis, questioning his sexual orientation, she would tell the student that it was not okay to be gay.
ASU's officials determined that, through these statements, Keeton expressed her intent to violate several provisions of the American Counseling Association's (ACA) Code of Ethics, which ASU was required to adopt and teach in order to offer a counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
Before Keeton could participate in the program's clinical practicum, in which she would have engaged in one-on-one counseling with a student, ASU's officials asked her to participate in a remediation plan, to help her learn how to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics and improve her "ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with [GLBTQ] populations." As mentioned above, the ASU student handbook authorizes the imposition of a remediation plan when a student's performance is "not satisfactory on interpersonal or professional criteria unrelated to academic performance." Similarly, the ACA Code of Ethics requires counselor educators to "address the inability of some students to achieve counseling competencies that might impede performance." In accordance with CACREP guidelines, the faculty assesses every student each semester to determine whether they are having difficulties that need to be addressed through a remediation plan. In the past, remediation plans have been drafted for students who have had difficulty with writing assignments, "performing the skills particular to a counseling internship setting," receiving feedback from their supervisors, and "working with other multi-cultural
Other parts of the remediation plan addressed Keeton's deficient writing skills, but those parts are not at issue here. Based on Keeton's written reflections and two scheduled meetings, the faculty would "decide the appropriateness of her continuation in the counseling program."
School officials held several meetings with Keeton to discuss the remediation plan. Although Keeton did not testify at the evidentiary hearing, she had alleged in her verified complaint that officials told her that "you couldn't be a teacher, let alone a counselor, with those views," asked her to alter some of her beliefs, and said that she had a choice of adhering to the Bible or to the ACA Code of Ethics. At the evidentiary hearing and in declarations, the officials categorically denied making these statements and testified that they never told her that she needed to alter her beliefs or that her beliefs were wrong or unethical, and that she could continue to maintain her personal religious beliefs and still become an effective counselor. Consistent with this testimony, a handwritten summary of one of the meetings, which Keeton signed, made no mention of ASU officials asking her to alter her beliefs. Additionally, when Keeton
After the meetings, Keeton initially agreed to participate in the remediation plan and assured school officials that she would "learn to separate [her] personal values and beliefs from those of the client so that she may attend to any need of future clients in an ethical manner." Based on these assurances, the faculty agreed to allow Keeton to enroll in the program's clinical practicum while she completed the remediation plan. Soon thereafter, however, Keeton changed her mind and sent school officials an email withdrawing from the program and stating, "I am not going to agree to a remediation plan that I already know I won't be able to successfully complete." Keeton then filed this action, alleging that ASU's officials' actions violated her First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.
A. Free Speech Claims
"[S]tate colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the First Amendment." Healy v. James,
Keeton claims that ASU's officials violated her First Amendment free speech rights in three ways: by discriminating against her viewpoint; by retaliating against her for exercising her First Amendment rights; and finally by compelling her to express beliefs with which she disagrees. We address each specific claim in turn.
1. Viewpoint Discrimination
To analyze Keeton's viewpoint discrimination claim, we must first engage in forum analysis, as the government's power to restrict speech "depends on the nature of the relevant forum" at issue. Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Def. & Educ. Fund, Inc.,
We first consider the neutrality question. In general, "[d]iscrimination against speech because of its message is presumed to be unconstitutional." Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia,
We conclude that the evidence in this record does not support Keeton's claim that ASU's officials imposed the remediation plan because of her views on homosexuality. Rather, as the district court found, the evidence shows that the remediation plan was imposed because she expressed an intent to impose her personal religious views on her clients, in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics, and that the objective of the remediation plan was to teach her how to effectively counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics.
As Keeton did not testify at the evidentiary hearing, she relies primarily on the allegations in her verified complaint and certain statements made in the remediation plan and the addendum to the remediation plan to support her claims. In particular, she points to her allegations that ASU's officials told her during the remediation plan meetings that she needed to alter her beliefs. However, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that ASU's officials were not asking her to change her beliefs. For instance, Keeton's fellow students stated in declarations that professors told Keeton in class that she did not need to change her beliefs, but instead needed to be aware of her beliefs and not impose them on the client. Likewise, ASU's officials testified that Keeton could still hold her personal religious beliefs and become an effective counselor as long as she separated those beliefs from her work, and that students holding the same beliefs as Keeton have been successful in the program. Further, ASU's officials wrote in the addendum to the remediation plan that "the intent of the remediation plan is not necessarily to alter your views about sexual orientation, or about any of your other personal beliefs." Given this evidence, the
Keeton also points to the following language from the remediation plan chronicling her beliefs about homosexuality to argue that the remediation plan was imposed because of her beliefs regarding homosexuality:
And she additionally refers to the following language from the addendum to the remediation plan:
While these statements do refer to Keeton's beliefs, they also make clear that the school's primary concern was her "ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor" and her "ability to maintain ethical behavior in all counseling situations." Moreover, at the evidentiary hearing, ASU's officials confirmed that their primary concern was teaching Keeton not to impose her values on clients and how to become a more effective counselor. Also, in the addendum to the remediation plan, which was added in direct response to Keeton's email claim that she believed she was being asked to alter her personal religious beliefs, ASU's officials clarified that "[t]he content of your moral or religious beliefs is not in question," and that the remediation plan was concerned with teaching her how "to respond in an ethical manner and avoid imposing your personal values on the client." Likewise, the handwritten summary of one of the meetings, which Keeton and the ASU officials present signed, stated that:
These concerns arose from Keeton's own statements that she intended to impose her personal religious beliefs on clients and refer clients to conversion therapy, and her own admissions that it would be difficult for her to work with the GLBTQ population and separate her own views from those of the client. In light of this
As all graduate students in the program, regardless of their personal beliefs, must counsel clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics and ASU's counseling curriculum, the remediation plan did not single out Keeton for disfavored treatment because of her point of view. All students are taught the ACA's fundamental principles, including that counselors must support their clients' welfare, promote their growth, respect their dignity, support their autonomy, and help them pursue their own goals for counseling. Further, ASU's curriculum requires that all students be competent to work with all populations, and that all students not impose their personal religious values on their clients, whether, for instance, they believe that persons ought to be Christians rather than Muslims, Jews or atheists, or that homosexuality is moral or immoral. As such, ASU's curriculum and the generally applicable rules of ethical conduct of the profession are not designed to suppress ideas or viewpoints but apply to all regardless of the particular viewpoint the counselor may possess. Thus, unlike the cases Keeton relies upon, this is not a case in which a forum was opened to a particular topic or expressive activity and disfavored views on that topic or forms of that activity were suppressed. See Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 829-31, 115 S.Ct. 2510. Indeed, Keeton remains free to express disagreement with ASU's curriculum and the ethical requirements of the ACA, but she cannot block the school's attempts to ensure that she abides by them if she wishes to participate in the clinical practicum, which involves one-on-one counseling, and graduate from the program.
To be sure, as Keeton points out, the remediation plan, in requiring her to spend time reading articles and attending events and workshops, does place a burden on her that other students who do not intend to express their personal religious beliefs to clients do not have. But it does not follow that this constitutes discrimination against Keeton's views regarding homosexuality. As the Supreme Court held in Christian Legal Society Chapter of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law v. Martinez, ___ U.S. ___,
Having concluded that the imposition of the remediation plan was viewpoint neutral, we must now consider whether the burden that ASU's officials placed on Keeton's First Amendment rights was reasonable, keeping in mind "the special characteristics of the school environment." Widmar, 454 U.S. at 268 n. 5, 102 S.Ct. 269 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Supreme Court was faced with a similar question in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier,
Hazelwood informs our analysis for two reasons. First, the clinical practicum, which Keeton seeks to participate in, is a "school-sponsored expressive activit[y]," as those who receive counseling in the program and members of the general public "might reasonably perceive [it] to bear the imprimatur of the school." Id. And second, ASU's remediation plan and the clinical practicum are "part of the school curriculum" and are "supervised by faculty members and designed to impart particular knowledge or skills to [Keeton]." Id. Thus, a significant concern underlying Hazelwood—the deference that courts must show to a school's curricular choices, id. at 273, 108 S.Ct. 562—applies here, as enjoining ASU from imposing its remediation plan on Keeton, and forcing ASU to allow Keeton to participate in the clinical practicum, would interfere with ASU's control over its curriculum. The Supreme Court and this Court have voiced this concern on numerous occasions. See, e.g., CLS, 130 S.Ct. at 2988 ("[W]e have cautioned courts in various contexts to resist `substitut[ing] their own notions of sound educational policy
Turning to whether ASU's officials' actions were reasonable under the Hazelwood framework, we find that ASU has a legitimate pedagogical concern in teaching its students to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics. ASU must adopt and follow the ACA Code of Ethics in order to offer an accredited program, and the entire mission of its counseling program is to produce ethical and effective counselors in accordance with the professional requirements of the ACA. Moreover, the ACA, in addition to several other professional organizations, including the American Psychology Association, holds that "[t]he promotion in schools of efforts to change sexual orientation by therapy or through religious ministries seems likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm, and fear for [GLBTQ] youth." Just the Facts Coalition, Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel, 4 (2008), available at http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/ resources/just-the-facts.aspx. Keeton indicated that she would impose her personal religious views on GLBTQ clients and refer such clients to counselors who practice conversion therapy, in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics and contrary to what the ACA and clinical literature recognize as an effective counseling practice. The remediation plan targeted these concerns, seeking to improve Keeton's ability to counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with the ACA Code of Ethics, notwithstanding her personal beliefs, and thus it was reasonably related to ASU's legitimate pedagogical concerns in promoting compliance with the ACA Code of Ethics and teaching her to become an effective counselor. Accordingly, the imposition of the remediation plan was a reasonable restriction on Keeton's speech.
A final and key consideration with respect to Keeton's viewpoint discrimination claim is the role that the clinical practicum plays in the curriculum. In Rust v. Sullivan,
Our Court, too, has recognized the government's power to regulate the speech of those it places in its own counseling program. In Watts v. Florida International University,
Keeton next argues that, by imposing the remediation plan on her in response to her statements regarding her personal religious beliefs and her intent to impose those beliefs on clients, ASU's officials retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment free speech rights.
As explained in the prior section, the record shows that ASU's officials imposed the remediation plan, not because she expressed her personal religious views regarding homosexuality, but because she was unwilling to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics. That this unwillingness to abide by ASU's curriculum and her chosen profession's ethical standards initially became apparent through her writings and class discussions does not cloak it in First Amendment protection.
3. Compelled Speech
Finally, Keeton claims that ASU's officials sought to unconstitutionally compel her to express beliefs with which she disagrees. The case Keeton principally relies upon for this claim is West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,
We find Barnette and its progeny inapplicable here for several reasons. First, unlike the plaintiff in Barnette, Keeton may choose not to attend ASU, and indeed may choose a different career. The Court in Barnette distinguished an earlier case on this ground, stating:
Id. at 631-32. Likewise, ASU has conditioned participation in the clinical practicum and graduation on compliance with the ACA Code of Ethics, and Keeton, having voluntarily enrolled in the program, does not have a constitutional right to refuse to comply with those conditions.
Another reason Barnette is inapplicable is that ASU is not forcing Keeton to profess a belief contrary to her own personal beliefs. Rather, it is compelling her to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics, which requires those who wish to be counselors to separate their personal beliefs from their work. When a GLBTQ client asks, for example, if his conduct is moral, students are taught to avoid giving advice, to explore the issue with the client, and to
Finally, the Supreme Court has hardly indicated an intention to limit a school's power to require its students to demonstrate whether they grasp a particular lesson. A school must, for instance, be free to give a failing grade to a student who refuses to answer a test question for religious reasons, or who refuses to write a paper defending a position with which the student disagrees. See Brown v. Li,
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Keeton has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood that she will prevail on the merits of her free speech claims.
B. Free Exercise Claims
Keeton also claims that ASU's officials' actions violated her right to the free exercise of religion. "[T]he threshold questions in analyzing a law challenged under the Free Exercise Clause are (1) is the law neutral, and (2) is the law of general applicability?" First Assembly of God of Naples, Florida, Inc. v. Collier Cnty., Fla.,
For many of the same reasons previously discussed, we conclude that ASU's curricular requirement that students comply with the ACA Code of Ethics, from which the remediation plan follows, is neutral and generally applicable. Nothing in the record indicates that the object of the curricular requirement is to infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation; rather, the evidence shows that, among other reasons, ASU adopted the ACA Code of Ethics to offer an accredited program. Nor does the evidence indicate that ASU applies the curricular requirement in a selective manner that burdens only conduct motivated by religious belief; rather, the requirement applies equally to all students in the program. It is ASU's general practice to craft remediation plans that target a student's particular curricular weakness, as it did here. In seeking to evade the curricular requirement that she not impose her moral values on clients, Keeton is looking for preferential, not equal, treatment. See CLS, 130 S.Ct. at 2995 n. 27.
As the curricular requirement that students comply with the ACA Code of Ethics is neutral and generally applicable, it needs only to survive rational basis review. It easily satisfies this test, as it is rationally related to ASU's legitimate interest in offering an accredited counseling program. Thus, Keeton is unlikely to prevail on the merits of her claim that ASU violated her free exercise rights by requiring her to comply with the ACA Code of Ethics.
Because Keeton failed to satisfy the first requirement for a preliminary injunction—establishing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits—with respect to her free speech and free exercise claims, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying her motion for a preliminary injunction.
PRYOR, Circuit Judge, concurring:
I join the panel opinion in full, but write separately to explain a few additional points about the context of this appeal.
The record before us contains some isolated evidence that officials of Augusta State University initially intended to engage in viewpoint discrimination against Jennifer Keeton. See Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va.,
These initial documents did not expressly tie the concerns of officials of Augusta State to Keeton's participation in a clinical program.
But the record, as a whole, establishes that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Keeton's motion for a preliminary injunction. At this stage, the record supports the finding that Augusta State imposed the remediation plan to prevent Keeton from violating the rules of the clinical program. Immediately after Keeton refused to adhere to the remediation plan, Augusta State refused to allow Keeton to enroll in that program. Augusta State did not demand that Keeton change her beliefs or refrain from all expression of those beliefs.
Augusta State has the authority to require all students enrolled in its clinical practicum, which involves one-on-one interaction with actual counselees, to adhere to a code of ethics. In Watts v. Florida International University,
A few decades ago, the prevailing view of the psychiatric profession maintained that homosexuality was a treatable mental disorder. See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2d ed. 1968). As this record makes plain, the prevailing view changed. This shift in psychiatric orthodoxy occurred largely because professionals who had been taught that homosexuality was a disease of the mind, but who rejected that view, argued successfully that the psychiatric diagnostic criteria should be amended. See Herb Kutchins & Stuart A. Kirk, Making Us Crazy 55-77 (1997) (describing professional efforts to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM-II). This change in opinion would have taken much longer if public universities had been able to expel students who rejected the prevailing view and intended to argue that homosexuality was not a mental disease. As the First Amendment protected the professionals who successfully advocated against the then-prevailing view of the psychiatric profession, so too does it protect Keeton should she decide to advocate that those professionals got it wrong.
The decision of the Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier,
Although we have concluded that Hazelwood allows a public university to "limit in-school expressions which suggest the school's approval," Bishop v. Aronov,
Although federal courts owe no deference to universities when considering whether a public university has exceeded constitutional constraints, Christian Legal Soc'y Chapter of the Univ. of Cal., Hastings Coll. of the Law v. Martinez, ___ U.S. ___,
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