Tennessee "Religious freedom to discriminate" law
Part 1 of three parts.
2016-JAN to APR: Bill HB 1840
becomes law on 2016-APR-27.
Bill HB 1840 was prepared by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), which is part of the state government. The bill, which was later signed into law, gives mental health counselors and therapists the option of discriminating against a potential client by refusing to treat them, and referring them to another counselor if the original counselor believes that his or her religious and other beliefs cause them difficulties with the client.
According to their web site, the department is:
"... the state’s mental health and substance abuse authority. The department is responsible for planning, setting policy and quality standards, system monitoring and evaluation, and advocating for persons of all ages who have mental illness, serious emotional disturbance, or substance abuse disorders. TDMHSAS annually assesses the public's needs for mental health, substance abuse, and recovery service supports." 1 (Emphasis not in the original)
For a reason or reasons unknown, the Department decided to violate their mandate which calls upon them to advocate on behalf of "persons seeking counseling." The Department prepared a bill which has since become law. It allows counselors, therapists, etc. to use their personal religious, moral, and ethical beliefs to discriminate against potential clients by refusing to help them and instead referring them to another therapist. Thus a counselor could deny help to a person who belongs to a different religious denomination, or to another religion, or is an Agnostic or Atheist, or Secular Humanist, etc. A counselor could tell potential clients to "get lost" if the latter have a lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation, if they are a transgender individual or a transsexual. A male counselor could deny help to all female clients on the basis that his religious beliefs prohibit him from being alone in the same room with a woman other than his wife. Rejection based on sexual activity by an unmarried client, or even a prior divorce could also presumably be grounds for rejection.
On 2016-JAN-11, the Department crafted Bill HB 1840 which:
"... 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." 2
The key passage of the bill stated:
"No counselor or therapist 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; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy." 2
The term "religious belief" was later replaced with a more general term "sincerely held principles."
The bill nullifies the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics in the state. That Code was amended in 2014 to state that:
"Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor's personally held values, attitudes, beliefs , and behaviors." 3
The bill amends Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4; Title 49 and Title 63.
A companion, Bill SB 1556, was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Curtis Johnson (R).
Webmaster's comment: [bias alert]
Bill HB 1840 will make it very difficult for some people to obtain counseling. In rural areas of the state, a counselor without religious bias who would be willing to help a rejected client might be many miles away -- out of reach for some persons needing help.
On the other hand, it might be better for a counselor whose religious beliefs cause them to want to discriminate against a particular client if the latter were referred to a different counselor where they would probably receive more positive, caring and empathic help.
Many groups expressed their opposition to HB 1840:
Joel Ebert, et al. at The Tennessean wrote:
"At stake is a conference that the group says would bring more than 3,000 conventioneers to Nashville, generate up to $4 million in combined local and state tax revenue and have a local economic impact of up to $10 million." 4
- Lisa Henderson, a Licensed Professional Counselor and president-elect of the Tennessee Counselors Association (TCA), said:
"The Code of Ethics was open to public comment prior to its induction. Prior to this bill being brought forward, there was no concern brought to our board. It went straight into bill format, so this climate of distancing ourselves from the people with whom we disagree is counterproductive.”
- The Human Rights Campaign is a leading national group promoting equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual community (LGBT). They referred to HB 1840 as: the "Counseling Discrimination Bill." 5
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services' home page is at: https://tn.gov/
- "House Bill 1840 by Howell," Open:States, at: http://openstates.org/ Click on "View latest bill text"
- Rebekah Price, "," Elizabethton Star, 2016-APR-05, at: http://www.elizabethton.com/
- "Counseling group considers relocating Nashville conference over therapist bill," The Tennessean, 2016-APR-28, at: http://www.tennessean.com/
- "American Counseling Association needs counseling over counseling bill," Family Action Council of Tennessee," 2016-APR-29, at: http://factn.org/
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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on
Original posting: 2016-MAY-03
Latest update : 2016-MAY-03
Author: B.A. Robinson