Bill Allows Therapists and Counselors to Refuse Service to Anyone Based on Their 'Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs'
Tennessee state lawmakers Wednesday afternoon passed a bill that would allow mental health professionals to refuse service to anyone based on the "sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist." The bill just passed the House by a huge margin, 68-22, and earlier passed the Senate, 27-5. HB 1840 now heads to GOP Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature or veto.
The legislation is particularly onerous for LGBT people in Tennessee. Of its 6.5 million residents overall, nearly one-quarter live in rural areas, where access to mental health professionals can be especially limited. While the bill states a therapist must provide a referral if they refuse service, it's not only possible, but likely, another therapist willing to help an LGBT person could be hours away.
The ACLU of Tennessee warns the bill, should it become law, would allow counselors to "refuse to see clients for almost unlimited reasons. For instance, a counselor could refuse to see a lesbian simply because of her sexual orientation, or to see a couple involved in an interfaith relationship. A counselor who is an atheist could refuse to see a Catholic clientâ€”and the list goes on."
"For people seeking counseling because they are faced with a critical dilemma in their lives and need objective guidance, allowing mental health professionals to discriminate could cause grave damage. Many who need care already face significant barriers, including trauma, marginalization, and a historic distrust of mental health providers. For someâ€”like a woman who wants to escape her abusive spouse or a gay teen being bullied, for exampleâ€”this bill could affect their very survival."
The bill is exceptionally broad, and even includes unlicensed counselors. It also uses undefined language and sweeping language, like this passage: "facilitate normal human growth and development, using a combination of mental health and human development principles, methods, and techniques, to achieve mental, emotional, physical, social, moral, educational, spiritual, or career development and adjustment throughout the life span."
The Tennessee Equality Project has a petition asking Gov. Haslam to veto the bill.
Some responses via Twitter:
"Let's make no mistake about what this bill is about, there is absolutely zero need for this piece of legislation." Rep. Clemmons #HB1840â€” GLSEN Middle TN (@GLSENMiddleTN) April 6, 2016
Earlier this week Tennessee lawmakers sent Gov. Haslam a bill making the Christian Holy Bible the official state book.
The Tennessee Equality Project, via email, adds:
Opposed by over 50 Tennessee clergy, the bill does not represent the religious freedom it purports to protect.
An anti-bullying amendment that would have protected minors who are victims of bullying was stripped from the bill during a House Health Committee meeting.
Image via Wikimedia
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