Tennessee House Bill 1840 would allow mental health counselors throughout the state to deny services to someone due to conflicting religious beliefs, and Tennessee Equality Project representatives are very upset about the possibility.
House Bill 1840, sponsored by Rep. Dan Howell, declares 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, reports WVLT-TV in Knoxville.
The bill further states this stipulation is provided that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.
The bill passed the state senate 27-5 in February.
Tennessee Equality Project spokespeople told WVLT-TV that House Bill 1840 and House Bill 2414 concerning student access to restrooms would endanger the state's business, tourism, and convention industries.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said, "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."
Representative Jason Zachary calls the Tennessee Equality Project's claim, "baseless."
Zachary said the bill is intended to reinforce the First Amendment by protecting the religious rights of counselors, allowing them to refer a patient elsewhere. He also expressed the bill protects patients and helps them to get better care, not denying care.
The American Counseling Association also condemns the HB 1840, according to WVLT-TV. An association representative sent an email to mental health professionals on March 24, reminding counselors that, "The needs of the client are always a top priority, according to universally taught principles in counselor education, rather than the personally held beliefs of the counselor. This tenet is a civic and professional responsibility for those who are professional counselors."
Others argue the bill is a form of government overreach, saying that if it is passed it would micromanage the professional standards and code of ethics followed by counseling professionals.
The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics states 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).
ACA calls the bill an "unprecedented attack on the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics, something to which nearly 60,000 counselors abide."