Bill would allow counselors to refuse to treat clients based on counselors’ religious beliefs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Legislation is making its way toward the Tennessee Senate floor that would allow counselors to refer clients because of a counselors' own religious beliefs.

Many argued the bill would harm the LGBT community, who could get turned away while seeking counseling.

Opponents called the legislation the "Counseling Discrimination Bill."

"To be told by someone, 'I can't treat you, because my religion doesn't agree with your lifestyle', is a way to really damage someone," said Addiction Campuses Southeast Region Market Director Karen Morgan.

Addiction Campuses told WREG they treat everyone who needs help, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, or other factors.

Morgan said the idea that Senate Bill 1556 (also House Bill 1840) cleared the Senate Health and Welfare Committee is concerning.

"Could be very discriminatory," she said. "It just seems to be aimed at the LGBT population."

The bill read in part, "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."

"It's placing them [LGBT community] at risk," Morgan said.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Jack Johnson (R - Franklin), said that is not the case.

He brought the legislation forward because a counselor asked him to.

"I filed legislation that passed through the Senate Health Committee this week, and I expect it to pass on the floor, to restore that right that counselors have to refer a client whenever there's counseling regarding a matter that violates a personally held belief," Johnson said.

Johnson's referring to a change in 2014.

The American Counseling Association added the following to its Code of Ethics: "Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor's personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors."

"Mental health care providers, as being a provider of a medical service just like anyone else, if you have someone bleeding or coming into the ER, you wouldn't deny them services because of your own held religious beliefs," said ACA State Legislative Representative Kelly Nickel.

She said ACA represents 1,380 counselors across Tennessee.

Johnson said this is not an attack on the LGBT community, but rather, the legislation opposes the ACA's change.

WREG reached out to the Tennessee Medical Association about this kind of issue when it comes to physicians.

Lawyers referred WREG to this statute: T. C. A. § 68-34-104 (5) that said "No private institution or physician, nor any agent or employee of such institution or physician, shall be prohibited from refusing to provide contraceptive procedures, supplies, and information when such refusal is based upon religious or conscientious objection, and no such institution, employee, agent, or physician shall be held liable for such refusal"

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