Published On: Mon, Apr 25th, 2016

Missouri State University: Thomas More Society defends Andrew Cash, denied graduate counseling degree candidate because of his faith

Attorneys with the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Governors of Missouri State University on behalf of Andrew Cash.  Cash was a student at the university who was dismissed from his M.S. in Counseling program after expressing concern over counseling same-sex couples due to his religious convictions.  His suit claims that he was unable to complete his counseling curriculum, and is now prevented from working as a counselor, causing him daily emotional suffering. He is seeking for MSU to reinstate him in his counseling program with safeguards put in place so that he can successfully earn his degree.

Cash began the counseling program at MSU in September 2007. He was a student in excellent standing and nearing the completion of his degree when the disagreement with the school arose in 2011 over counseling gay couples.

“Traditionally, universities have been places for free exchange of ideas and values, both religious and secular,” said Thomas Olp, Executive Director and Attorney for the Thomas More Society. “Unfortunately, Missouri State University departed from its mission by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash simply because he expressed, in an academic setting, sincerely-held religious beliefs which his advisor deemed hostile to her own and therefore unacceptable.  An educator should not permit her own ideology and agenda to ruin the educational opportunities of her students.  We feel the responsibility, on Mr. Cash’s behalf, to try to correct this.”

photo Matt Pascucci

photo Matt Pascucci

As a part of the degree program, students are required to complete clinical internship hours.  Cash started his internship in January 2011 with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, which had been approved by MSU as an internship site.  At least one other student in the M.S. in Counseling program had previously completed an internship there.  The Institute is a Christian-based counseling agency, and MSU knew this when it approved Cash’s internship in January 2011.

A class presentation was conducted at the Institute in order to inform students about Christian counseling.  The presentation was approved in advance by Cash’s instructor.  During the presentation, the Institute’s chief counselor said that its Christian credentials and values were openly discussed with potential clients.  In answer to a hypothetical question, the counselor said that while the Institute would and does counsel individual gay persons on a variety of issues, it prefers to refer gay couples for relationship counseling to other counselors whose religious views would likely be a better fit.  Following the presentation, a student complained to Cash’s faculty advisor about the statement, who peremptorily ordered Cash to her office, interrogated him as to his own views on the subject, and when he said he was sympathetic to them, she ordered him to forthwith cease attending the Institute, and immediately informed the Institute that it no longer would be considered an appropriate location for a school counseling internship given “ethical concerns” that had arisen.  MSU later stripped the hours from Cash’s graduate record.

Although Cash worked with the administration to find a different internship, the faculty advisor required him, as a condition of being re-accepted to a new internship, to prove to her that he “had learned something from the experience at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute.”   Later, the same advisor wrote a letter to department officials claiming that it appeared to her, despite a total lack of evidence, that she suspected that Cash had not recanted from his earlier-stated religious views.  She then made a recommendation, which was accepted, to force Cash into “remediation.”  A year later, in November 2014, the University expelled Cash from the counseling program, and his appeals fell on deaf ears.  Cash was very close to graduating, but lost his ability to complete his degree by the expulsion.

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