Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill that will allow mental health counselors and therapists to deny services to patients based on religious beliefs.
In an interview, Haslam pointed out, “As a professional I should have the right to decide if my clients end goals don’t match with my beliefs — I should have the right to say somebody else can better serve them. Lawyers can do that, doctors can do that. Why would we take this one class of professionals and say you can’t do that?”
He said that, before arriving at the decision to sign the bill into law, he consulted counselors and therapists on both sides of the debate. He said they told him it “isn’t about taking on or not taking on LGBT clients, because even the ones who said they think the bill is needed said they never actually turned someone down for this reason.”
Meanwhile, those opposing the law emphasize that it could lead to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. On the other hand, Senator Jack Johnson, sponsor of the bill, said, “It’s not anti-anybody, it’s not anti-anything; it’s just pro-religious liberty.”
As reported by NBCi.com, the American Counseling Association said that signing the bill into law would make Tennessee the only state to allow therapists and counselors to refuse services to patients. According to the law, counselors practicing privately cannot be forced to provide services to a client as to the “goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely-held principles” of the therapist. Under the law, therapists cannot be sued, prosecuted or punished by a licensing authority.
In a statement, Haslam said of the bill, “First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”
The law is also being supported by some, who say that in addition to protecting the rights of therapists, it will allow them to refer patients to other counselors, as reported by ABC News.
NPR reported that North Carolina recently signed a legislation also known as “bathroom bill,” which prohibits transgender individuals from using bathrooms that do not correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.