A new bill would allow counselors and therapists in Tennessee to turn patients away if it is determined that treating the patient conflicts with the counselor’s religious beliefs.
House Bill 1840, which passed the state senate 27-5 in February, states that “no person providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist,” according to WVLT.
LGBT activists, such as the Tennessee Equality Project's executive director Chris Sanders, believe that the bill provides an excuse to marginalize and discriminate against the LGBT community under the banner of “religious freedom.”
“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,” Sanders told WVLT. “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.”
Others, such as Republican Tennessee Rep. Jason Zachary, argue the bill is meant to improve standards of patient care by not requiring therapists who feel that treating a client would go against their religious beliefs to proceed with counseling. As a result, Zachary told WVLT that clients can feel free to find another counselor who better supports their desires and behaviors.
House Bill 1840 is the latest in a string of religious freedom legislation around the country, which have become the focus of a national debate on the rights of LGBT people as well as those who object to same-sex marriage and relationships on the basis of religion.
On April 1, Mississippi passed a bill that would allow businesses and individuals in the wedding industry to refuse service to same-sex couples, according to the International Business Times.