Tennessee House Bill Would Let Therapists Refuse to Treat Atheists, Gay People, and Other Sinners

As religious meddling by the state goes, this one’s a doozy: If Tennessee’s House Bill 1840 passes, mental-health counselors in the Volunteer State will be allowed by law to refuse service to non-believers and others who desire results that conflict with the counselors’ religious beliefs.

So let’s say you’re looking for help to get you through your divorce. Or imagine you’re having relationship issues with your same-sex partner. Or suppose you’re a budding young atheist, and you want advice on how to stay on good terms with your fundamentalist parents. After HB 1840 becomes the law, your pious counselor, in thrall to Jesus Christ, may kick you to the curb, professional standards be damned.

Representatives_-_TN_General_Assembly

Representative [Jason] Zachary tells Local 8 News the bill is aiming to reinforce the First Amendment by protecting the religious rights of counselors, allowing them to refer a patient elsewhere. He also expressed that the bill protects patients and helps them to get better care, not denying care.

Yeah. Just as some bigoted bakers will steer a gay couple to buy a “better” cake. Some service. Some care.

The bill contravenes section C.5 of the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, which holds that professional counselors may not refuse clients based on

… 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.

The association sent an email out to mental health professionals on March 24, reminding counselors that, “The needs of the client are always a top priority, according to universally taught principles in counselor education, rather than the personally held beliefs of the counselor. This tenet is a civic and professional responsibility for those who are professional counselors.”

The ACA has nearly 60,000 members.

However, such objections are hardly relevant to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Dan Howell (pictured above), a former local FOX news anchor who is more concerned with legislating his religion into everyone else’s private affairs.

Oh, and by the way, if it’s now OK for mental-health professionals to refuse service to sinners, can other exceptions to the Hippocratic Oath be far behind? May a Protestant nurse refuse to empty a gay woman’s bedpan? May a conservative-Catholic physician refuse to treat a divorcee’s broken collarbone? And may a born-again EMT refuse to treat a crash victim whose car has a fish-with-legs bumper sticker?

Is that what being a Christian is all about now? Is that really the message of Jesus that Christians hope to spread in the third millennium?

The mind reels.

(Image via Tennessee General Assembly)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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