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Tennessee Bill: Deny Patients Based On Religious Belief

Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it legal for mental health care professionals to discriminate against people based on religious beliefs.

State House Bill 1840 says those who provide counseling or therapy services could deny services to someone who has goals, outcomes, or behaviors that contradict the religious beliefs of the counselor or therapist.

The state Senate passed its version of the bill in February.

The state Senate bill would allow counselors and therapists to turn down patients who violate their religious beliefs, according to The Tennessean. It would also protect mental health care providers from lawsuits or any criminal charges in doing so.

Republican state Sen. Steven Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, opposed the bill, and said at the time: "I think when you go into the healing arts you give up a certain amount of personal latitude and you choose to be a counselor, you choose to be a doctor, you treat whoever comes through your door."

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told WVLT: “These bills represent not only a direct attack on the LGBT residents of Tennessee, but a direct threat to our state’s reputation as a place that is welcoming for business and tourism. We call on all Tennessee residents, businesses, and lawmakers who share our vision of a fair, hospitable, and welcoming state to reject these discriminatory bills as the wrong direction for our state.”

Republican state Rep. Jason Zachary said the claim was "baseless," and added that the proposed legislation is supposed to reinforce the First Amendment religious rights of counselors and allow them to refer a patient elsewhere.

Zachary also believes the bill will protect patients and get them better care.

The American Counseling Association sent an email out to mental health providers and posted a press release on its website on March 24 that stated:

"This bill, if signed into law, would allow professional counselors in Tennessee to disregard section A.11.b. of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics and essentially permit discrimination."

"...The ACA Code of Ethics clearly states that professional counselors may not deny services to a client regardless of that person’s 'age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law.' (Section C.5). Counselors put aside their own needs in order to understand those of their clients."

Sources: WVLTAmerican Counseling Association, The Tennessean / Photo credit: Kurt Lowenstein Educational Center International Team/Flickr

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