Fired Christian Physician Assistant Clears Important Hurdle in Court Case

November 13, 2023

By Kayla Toney

“I am a Christian, and that means I am a Christian physician assistant.” It is Valerie Kloosterman’s deeply-rooted faith that makes her such an excellent medical provider. As the third generation in her family to work at the local hospital system in Caledonia, Michigan, Valerie entered the profession to serve others. And for 17 years, she served patients with excellence, building long-term relationships with local families.

Yet Valerie’s caring demeanor and stellar record were ignored when University of Michigan Health-West took over her clinic and imposed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training that required her to affirm statements that violated her sincere religious beliefs, such as “gender is fluid.” Valerie had treated patients who identify as LGBTQ in the past with no complaints, and she would gladly continue doing so, but she could not in good conscience affirm statements that violated her faith and medical judgment. Human Resources directed her to meet with DEI representatives, who called her “evil” and a “liar,” and said she could not take the Bible or her religious beliefs to work with her, either literally or figuratively. When Valerie respectfully explained that she could not in good conscience use pronouns that conflicted with biology, or make referrals for “gender-transition” drugs or procedures, a DEI representative blamed her for gender-dysphoria related suicides.

Three weeks later, Valerie was fired. Without the opportunity to say goodbye to her beloved patients or coworkers, she was punished because of her sincere religious beliefs. Today, Valerie is fighting in federal court so that other medical providers do not have to face the same choice she did: violate your conscience or lose your job. Represented by First Liberty Institute, Valerie filed suit in the Western District of Michigan in October 2022, alleging religious discrimination and failure to accommodate under Title VII, as well as violations of the federal Free Exercise Clause, Free Speech Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and several state law provisions.

Thankfully, federal judge Jane Beckering recently allowed Valerie’s core claims to proceed to trial. In a 43-page ruling on September 20, 2023, Judge Beckering acknowledged Valerie’s “exemplary” record and that her “vibrant faith informs how she does her work as a medical professional.” The court ruled that Michigan Health officials demonstrated “hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated her objection to the training module.” The court cited Kennedy v. Bremerton School District for the principle that “official expressions of hostility” violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The court also found merit in Valerie’s Title VII and Equal Protection claims, because she showed that University of Michigan Health accommodated the preferences of other providers who decline to prescribe certain treatments, including opioids and diet pills, yet refused to accommodate her religious beliefs about “gender identity.” And the court rejected Michigan Health officials’ attempt to rely on qualified immunity, finding that Valerie “sufficiently alleged at this stage that each Individual Defendant violated her . . . clearly established freedom of religion and Equal Protection rights.” 

Valerie’s beliefs, which are rooted in both her religious faith and her medical judgment, are shared by thousands of healthcare professionals nationwide. She is a member of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), an organization of more than 19,000 Christian healthcare professionals. CMDA explains:

  • “[H]ealthcare professionals should not be forced to violate their conscientious commitment to their patients’ health and welfare by being required to accept and participate in harmful gender-transition interventions, especially on the young and vulnerable.”
  • “CMDA affirms the obligation of Christian healthcare professionals caring for patients struggling with gender identity to do so with sensitivity and compassion, consistent with the humility and love that Jesus modeled and commanded us to show all people.”
  • “CMDA holds that attempts to radically reconstruct one’s body surgically or hormonally for psychological indications, however, are medically, ethically, and psychologically inappropriate.”

Valerie’s respect for her patients as unique individuals made in God’s image has always informed her patient-centered approach to medical care. She also believes that God created humans male and female as a unique expression of His image. These beliefs derive from the Bible and are shared by many other faiths. Indeed, a diverse coalition of at least 20 religious faiths, including many minority religions, share traditional beliefs about sex and gender.

Valerie also believes that she must not speak against these truths by using pronouns that contradict a person’s sex. For medical providers, pronouns are not a mere matter of courtesy or grammar. Entering pronouns into medical charts that obscure or misrepresent one’s sex may cause patients to miss potentially life-saving screenings and procedures like pregnancy tests, mammograms, and testicular exams, and could also result in inappropriate prescriptions.

Like other religious healthcare providers, Valerie’s religious beliefs are intertwined with her medical judgment and professional ethics. She has taken the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm” to her patients. Valerie therefore believes that it would be dishonest and sinful to violate her conscience and oath by knowingly facilitating a drug or procedure that will bring to a patient more harm than benefit. Valerie’s independent medical judgment, which is confirmed by a growing body of international research, is that puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender-transition surgeries are experimental, lack validation in methodologically rigorous long-term studies, and often lead to negative clinical outcomes.

As Valerie’s case proceeds in court, she fights on behalf of religious healthcare providers nationwide who seek to care for their patients with excellence, compassion, and respect—without sacrificing their sincerely held beliefs. And Judge Beckering’s ruling is an important step toward that goal.

Kayla Toney is Associate Counsel with First Liberty Institute, concentrating on religious liberty matters and First Amendment rights for clients of all faiths.