'Religious Freedom' for Counseling bill is unnecessary, wrong for Tennessee

The Tennessee General Assembly is debating passage of a damaging bill to unnecessarily insert the government into the counseling profession under the guise of “religious freedom.” House Bill 1840, likely to receive a vote in the Tennessee General Assembly in the near future, would permit counselors to deny essential services to clients based on the provider’s “strongly held religious beliefs.”

However, if enacted, the legislation would harm vulnerable Tennessee residents in need of accessible counseling and therapy services and could hurt Tennessee’s reputation and convention/tourism business by making our state the next in the contentious national battle between religious freedom and LGBT rights. Below are essential reasons why HB1840 is unnecessary and wrong for Tennessee:

This legislation is an unnecessary government overreach in search of a problem and goes against the core principles of the counseling profession: 

  • Tennessee, like many states, includes American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics in their state counselor licensure law. The ACA Code of Ethics clearly states that professional counselors may not deny services to a client regardless of that person’s “age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law.” (Section C.5). As Art Terrazas, Director of Government Affairs for the American Counseling Association said, “HB 1840 is an unprecedented attack on our Code of Ethics, something to which nearly 60,000 counselors abide.”
  • A prime example of government overreach and a “solution” in search of a problem. This bill would put the government in-between a patient and their trusted counselor or therapist. As Dianne Bradley, Ph.D., LMFT, and a Christian counselor recently noted: “Our professions and Code of Ethics already provides us with ethical, prudent, and responsible methods for appropriate referral of prospective clients in cases where that is necessary.”

Passing this legislation could result in costly unintended consequences for Tennessee:

  • Hundreds of thousands of state residents who rely on accessible and professional counseling services could be harmed. Allowing any health care provider to deny services based on a provider’s beliefs would have a negative effect on Tennesseans who seek mental and physical health services. As Lisa Henderson, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Member for the Tennessee Counselors Association, said: “distancing ourselves from our clients goes against the tenets of counseling, and it is counterproductive to finding the balance that allows everyone to receive the help they need.”
  • Tennessee’s eligibility for federal healthcare funding that could be jeopardized by the discriminatory nature of this legislation.Over 1.5 million Tennesseans rely on Medicaid for their health care coverage. If HB 1840 is signed into law, its enactment could also jeopardize federal healthcare funding for Tennessee, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has clearly stated that no state has the authority to deny healthcare to anyone based on religion, race, sexual orientation, or other federally protected populations.
  • Tennessee small businesses and the state’s tourism and convention industries could be hurt by entering the national debate over so-called “religious freedom” bills and LGBT rights. So-called “religious freedom” bills have targeted LGBT residents with new restrictions in states such as Georgia, Indiana, and North Carolina. In the process, as the Washington Post recently described, these states have seen their contentious debates negatively affect their state’s reputation and damaged or endangered their state businesses, tourism, and convention industries. As Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project, recently said of this HB1840 counseling bill, as well as the HB2414 bill to regulate a transgender student’s access to restrooms: “These bills represent not only a direct attack on the LGBT residents of Tennessee, but a direct threat to our state’s reputation as a place that is welcoming for business and tourism. We call on all Tennessee residents, businesses, and lawmakers who share our vision of a fair, hospitable, and welcoming state to reject these discriminatory bills as the wrong direction for our state.”


For more information on why HB 1840 is wrong for Tennessee, visit: www.StopHateBill1840.com




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