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Tennessee "Religious freedom to discriminate" law

Part 3 of three parts.

2016-APR: Reactions to the law (Cont'd).
Panel discussion about Bill HB 1840 on
National Public Radio.

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This topic is a continuation of the previous essay

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Reactions to the Governor signing the bill into law (Cont'd):

  • Nashville Mayor Megan Barry (D) said that the law:

    "... hurts our LGBT citizens, negatively impacts our economy and seeks to undermine the counseling profession. As mayor of Nashville, I'll continue to do whatever I can to create a warm and welcoming city free from discrimination." 1

  • State Sen. Jack Johnson, (R) who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said:

    "I think it’s a very  reasonable commonsense piece of legislation and corrects  what I believe was a wrong that was effectuated by the American Counseling Association with the change in their code of ethics in 2014."

  • Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said that she was:

    "... disappointed that the governor has chosen to sign this troubling bill into law. This measure is rooted in the dangerous misconception that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate. Allowing counselors to treat some potential clients differently from others based on their personal beliefs defies professional standards and could cause significant harm to vulnerable people."

  • Rep. Dan Howell, (R) who sponsored the bill in the House, said:

    "The governor felt that it had gotten a lot of undue criticism, which I agree with -- mainly because the bill does not deny anyone counseling as the critics have claimed. In fact the bill states that if there’s any conflict between the client’s goals and the counselor’s deeply held beliefs, that the counselor must facilitate an appropriate referral. So it’s a good balanced bill (that) ... protects the client to ensure that they get assistance and protects the First Amendment rights of faith-based counselors."

  • Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project -- a LGBT-positive group -- said that they are particularly concerned about whether the LGBT community will be able to access therapists in the rural areas of the state. They also announced the launch of "Counseling Unconditionally," a service that will publicize the names of therapists who will not reject potential clients.

  • James T. “Dale” Berry is a psychologist and director of Ebenezer Counseling Service -- a conservative Christian counseling service in Knoxville. He expressed concern that if the law was not in place, that some activists might shop around for therapists who would reject them as clients, and then compain to the American Counseling Association with the goal of cancelling the therapists certification. He said:

    "For the clients, it gets them to a therapist that does not have a core value conflict. That way they won’t get mixed messages, they won’t be confused. To not refer [under these conditions] is unethical in my view. ACA got it wrong when they cut referrals on the basis of values." 1

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2016-APR-28: HB 1840 was discussed on the National Public Radio (NPR) program "As it happens:"

Those who participated in the program segment included:

  • Charles Sisk of the NPR member station WPLN, who moderated the panel.

  • Therapist Justin G Briggs, PhD, an Assistant Professor and Clinic Director at Lipscomb University. This is an private evangelical Christian college in Nashville, Tennessee. Unlike many evangelicals in the state, he is opposed to the new law.

  • Chris Sanders, the director of the Tennessee Equality Project, a pro-LGBT group.

  • David Fowler, head of the Tennessee affilliate of Focus on the Family. 2

At the start of the program segment, Sisk and Dr. Briggs have an interesting exchange involving the Golden Rule:

Sisk: "For therapist Justin Briggs, there is one main rule to follow, the Golden Rule. Do onto others as you [would] have them do unto you."

Briggs: "So little of what we do is about getting clients to agree. And we are way more often teaching people how to be in loving, caring meaningful relationships with people who are different than them. And that's really what tolerance is all about."

Sisk: "Tolerance is what Briggs teaches as director of the marriage and family therapy program at Lipscomb University, an evangelical school in Nashville. He's one of many therapists, including devout Christians opposed to new Tennessee law that lets counselors turn away clients who go against their sincerely held principles."

Briggs: "I would say that I'm therapist who is a Christian. Just like I would hope a medical doctor would say, I'm a medical doctor who's a Christian. There's no such thing as a Christian surgery, for example. And I would say there's no such thing as Christian therapy."

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Sanders had noted that HB 1840, the new counseling law, is on a long list of ... [bills] that target the state's LGBT community. Most have been defeated, including a high-profile measure that would have required
transgender students to use the bathroom of their birth sex. By comparison, the counseling bill drew far less attention."

Sanders said:

"I think ... [those opposed to equality were] very clever in narrowly tailoring this bill on one profession to see if they could get something passed, and they did."

David Fowler referred to a number of individuals nationwide who own businesses in the wedding industry. (A few of them in various states have run afoul of state and municipal human rights legislation and ordinances. They are considered "public accommodations"-- for profit companies that provide goods and services to the general public. Examples are bakers of wedding cakes, wedding photographers, wedding venue rentals, etc. Some states and municipalities have human rights legislation or ordinances that require public accommodations to serve all potential customers without discriminating based on the customer's race, skin color, religion, gender, etc. Some of these regulations include a requirement that the owners not discriminate against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fowler said:

"We had the counselors come to us who said we will be the people who will be targeted just like the florists and the bakers. Somebody will come to us, we will ask to refer them, and they'll say no. We don't want to be referred. We don't -- like, we don't want a cake from one of the other 500 bakers in Seattle. We want it from you and you only.

Charles Sisk concluded the program segment, saying:

"Tourism officials worry others will follow. State lawmakers call threats of boycotts and economic sanctions little more than blackmail. Showing ... Tennessee standing up for religious values surpasses all else even when the people whose values are being stood up for don't think it's necessary." 2

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Webmaster's comment [Bias alert]:

While writing these essays, I roamed around the Internet searching for information to incorporate. I was stunned to stumble across the text of the NPR program on APR-28. 5 The reason for my surprise was that someone actually mentioned the Golden Rule in connection with HB 1840. Someone finally got it! This is the main rule of behavior required of Christians by Yesua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ). It is mentioned in two of the Gospels in the official canon:

  • "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

  • "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

The Golden Rule also appears in all the other major religions of the world, using different wording. It is also followed by Secular Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, etc.

Someone finally got it! Someone was actually reading and understanding their Torah, Christian Scriptures, Qur'an, or some other holy book while asking themselves how their religion requires them to treat others.

If a Christian counselor were to follow Jesus' Golden Rule with her or his clients, they would suppress any bias that that they might have towards a LGBT potential client or an unwed mother, or a divorced person, and be highly motivated to help the person.

Those opposed to Bill HB 1840 often called it "Hate Bill 1840," which is cute and catchy. But it can more accurately be called an "Anti-golden rule bill HB 1840," and join many similar laws passed recently in other states. The name is neither cute nor catchy. However, it is more precise.

In previous news reports about all the hate bills in other states directed at denigrating, humiliating, and discriminating against the LGBT community and other minorities, I had never seen the Golden Rule mentioned, except on this web site, None of the articles that I read about county clerks refusing marriage licenses to LGBT couples referred to the Golden Rule either. Perhaps I did not search deeply enough. But is was refreshing to see the Golden Rule mentioned front and center in at least this one case. Maybe it will catch on. One can always hope.

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More information, probably in the form of negative
economic factors caused by the bill are expected later in MAY.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Richard Locker and Holly Meyer, "Haslam signs bill giving therapists protections," The Tennessean, 2016-APR-27, at:
  2. Chas Sisk,"LGBT Activists Criticize Tennessee Law Allowing Therapists To Refuse Patients," National Public Radio, 2016-APR-28, at:

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to Discriminate > here

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Copyright 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-MAY-03
Latest update : 2016-MAY-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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