Recently Passed Tennessee Bill Allows Counselors to Deny Treatment Based on Religious Beliefs

Recently Passed Tennessee Bill Allows Counselors to Deny Treatment Based on Religious Beliefs

The Tennessee Senate has passed a bill that would allow counselors to refuse to treat patients and instead refer them to another professional due to religious beliefs.

ABC News reports that the bill, which passed 27-5 and was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson, would allow medical professionals to defer care based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The medical professional could then refer the patient whose issues or requests were at odds with the doctor’s religious beliefs, to another medical professional who did not object to treating the patient.

The bill came about as a response to the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, and is one of a number of new proposals that aim to provide for the religious freedom of clergy, businesses, state officials, and medical professionals.

However, some are opposed to the bill.

Jennifer Pizer, a senior attorney for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, said that the bill misses the point.

"This kind of a bill confuses pastoral counseling with mental health care," Pizer said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "The reason mental health professionals are licensed and held to professional standards is to protect patients who are seeking mental health care and not seeking pastoral or religious counseling."

Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson also disagrees with the bill.

"When you choose to go into the healing arts, you give up a certain amount of latitude," Dickerson said. "If you choose to become a counselor or choose to become a doctor, you treat whoever comes through your door."

Johnson, who sponsored the bill, however, claims that the new bill is simply reverting back to what the law stated before a 2014 change in the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics restricted the religious freedom of counselors.

"I'm not aware of a problem that existed prior to the amended code of ethics in 2014," Johnson said. "All we're doing is reverting to that code of ethics. It seemed to work very well for many, many years."

Publication date: February 18, 2016