A federal appeals court in Georgia is considering whether to allow a counselor's religious discrimination lawsuit to go forward after she refused to counsel a woman in a same-sex relationship.
The case involves Marcia Walden, a counselor hired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She referred a woman seeking lesbian relational advice to another counselor.
Walden told the woman she couldn't counsel her because of her personal values as a devout Christian. The woman then complained to administrators that she felt judged. The company that the CDC had hired to provide counseling services, Computer Sciences Corporation, terminated Walden at the CDC's request.
Walden's attorneys are in the process of appealing a 2010 federal court ruling against her.
Attorney Jim Campbell said she was instructed to tell the client she didn't have the experience to handle the case, even though she had extensive background in helping clients with relationship issues.
"She was targeted for mistreatment based on her religious beliefs," said Campbell, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious rights organization that took the case. "It's not her burden to come up with an excuse. She was offered one dishonest option - to say she didn't have the expertise to handle the case - and she refused it."
Campbell said the federal three-judge panel needs to step in to decide whether the CDC infringed on her "sincerely held religious beliefs."
"Counselors have an ethical obligation to refer - and that's in the highest interest of the client so they can get the best advice," said Campbell. "And that's what happened in this case."