University students training to be counselors could be allowed to legally refuse care to people in same-sex relationships and heterosexuals who have sex before marriage under a proposed law in Tennessee.
The law was drafted by the Family Action Council of Tennessee which passed it to Republican state Senator Joey Hensley and Democrat state Representative John J. DeBerry Jr (pictured) who agreed to sponsor it in both houses of the Tennessee legislature.
The Family Action Council of Tennessee drafted the law after an Eastern Michigan University student was denied a masters degree in counseling after she indicated that she would refuse to counsel clients in same-sex relationships or who were having sex outside of marriage.
The student, Julea Ward, eventually received a $75,000 payment when she sued the film with the support of the Alliance Defending Freedom Christian legal activist group despite the American Counseling Association writing a legal brief in support of the university’s decision against her.
The bill prohibits educational institutions from disciplining students who refuse to work with patients who have ‘goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student.’
The Family Action Council of Tennessee’s president David Fowler believes that forcing a counselor to help someone who is engaging in practices they disagree with is a violation of religious liberties.
‘The legal arguments made by the accrediting bodies against Ms. Ward in her case made it clear that the trend in … psychology is against religious liberty and in favor of government-mandated speech,’ Fowler told the Tennessean.
However Fowler’s claims were dismissed by the head of a counseling program at a Tennessee Christian University.
‘I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door,’ said Lipscomb University counseling program director Jake Morris.
‘For example, if a student thinks divorce is sinful, that student still needs to know how to treat clients who have gone through a divorce.’
Morris said it was important for counselors to act like professionals when counseling clients they found challenging.
‘We are health care professionals,’ Morris said, ‘We need to act like it.’
Christian activists have managed to have a similar law passed in Arizona, while similar laws have been proposed in Michigan and Georgia.
Another Tennessee lawmaker, Republican Senator Stacey Campfield, has proposed a bill banning the discussion of LGBT issues in schools and earlier this year compared homosexuality to using heroin and claimed HIV passed to humans after a gay man had sex with a chimpanzee.