Missouri State University (MSU) says it will pay $25,000 to a former student who was expelled for his views on homosexuality. The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last April by Andrew Cash, a former MSU graduate student who alleges the university kicked him out of the master’s in counseling program because he expressed a religious objection to counseling same-sex couples.
The settlement was finalized in December but became public this week when the Springfield News-Leader reported on the agreement after an open records request.
The MSU Board of Governors will pay Cash $25,000 from the state of Missouri legal defense fund, an amount they said is “the estimated tuition cost for Cash to obtain a master’s degree in counseling from Evangel University or another similar institution.” The terms of the settlement state Cash cannot seek admission or employment with MSU and the university does not admit liability.
Cash began the Master of Science in Counseling program in 2007. In 2011, Cash started an internship with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI), a Christian counseling agency. The site was approved by the internship coordinator, Kristi Perryman. When Perryman learned that staff members at SMFI said they could not counsel gay couples because of their religious beliefs, she asked for a meeting with Cash.
When asked, Cash told her that he, too, would have to refer gay couples to another counselor due to his religious convictions about homosexuality. He said he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter—depression or anxiety, for example—but he could not counsel regarding same-sex relationships. Perryman said that conviction was a violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics. After months of back-and-forth between Cash and MSU, school officials expelled Cash from the program in November 2014. Cash had a 3.81 GPA and was almost finished with his degree. He appealed the decision, but was denied.
Cash filed a federal civil rights action complaint against MSU in April 2016 claiming the university violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free expression.
“We are honored to have represented Andrew Cash in his quest to serve others with professional counseling while maintaining his religious convictions,” said Thomas Olp, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Cash. “His religious convictions are protected by the U.S. Constitution and should have been respected in an academic environment.”
In 2006, MSU settled a similar case with another former student. Emily Brooker sued MSU soon after she graduated for violating her constitutional rights by requiring she support gay adoption and foster care as part of a mandatory class assignment. MSU settled the case and paid Brooker $27,000.
— by Kiley Crossland