Andrew Cash, a former student at Missouri State University, is suing the institution over his dismissal from a graduate program in counseling. Cash has retained counsel from the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm, and has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Governors of Missouri State University. Cash and his lawyers contend that he was dismissed from the university’s Master’s program in counseling because he expressed concern over counseling same-sex couples due to his religious convictions. In an exclusive interview, Spero News interviewed attorney Tom Olp
of the Thomas More Society, which is representing Cash.
According to Olp, Cash claims that he was unable to complete his counseling curriculum and is consequently prevented from working as a counselor. Moreover, his dismissal has caused him emotional suffering. Cash wants to be reinstated in the program, and that safeguards put in place so that he can successfully earn his degree.
Olp said in a statement that the university denied an educational opportunity to Cash who 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.” Cash contends that the university dismissed him on the basis of his religious beliefs, thus violating his freedom of expression.
“There is in our culture today,” said Olp in the interview with Spero, “a big-government mentality. As the government gets bigger and bigger, and its tentacles spread further and further, and we see this with the Affordable Care Act, for example, we see that government doesn’t want to have competitors. And religion, and religious belief, are essentially a competitor to the government point of view.” Religious belief would then curtailed to a private setting by the government. “That’s a very dangerous thing in terms of a free society,” Olb said.
“To be a free society, you have to have free speech, and you have to respect religious expression.”
In his case, Andrew Cash was working on an approved internship with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute in 2011 in order to obtain required clinical hours of counseling. The Institute is a Christian-based counseling agency and had been approved by MSU as an internship site; at least one other student in the Master’s program in counseling had completed an internship there.
According to the Thomas More Society, a class presentation – previously approved by Cash’s instructor – was given at the Institute to inform students about Christian counseling. The Institute's chief counselor said that during the presentation, the Institute’s 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, it prefers to refer gay couples for relationship counseling to other counselors whose religious views would likely be a better fit.
When a student complained to Cash's faculty advisor about the statement, the faculty advisor ordered Cash to her office and interrogated him as to his own views on the subject. When Cash said he sympathized with the views of the Institute, she ordered him to cease attending the Institute. Citing “ethical concerns,” she also informed the Institute that it no longer would be considered an appropriate location for a school counseling internship. MSU later stripped the hours from Cash's graduate record.
Cash, according to the lawsuit, “was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple.”
“Since he did not give the ‘correct’ answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program,” the lawsuit alleges. All counselors have personal opinions, and when a conflict arises with a potential patient, it is common to refer the patient to another counselor. However, this option was denied to Cash.
Even though Cash cooperated with MSU to find an alternate 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 advisor wrote a letter to department officials claiming that it appeared to her, says the Thomas More Society, 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.
Cash has lost his ability to complete his degree, despite having fulfilled most of its requirements.
The Thomas More Society describes itself as a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm "dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty."
Based in Chicago, it provides pro bono legal services ranging from local trial courts to the United States Supreme Court in support of the values it espouses.