What The Media Need To Know About Tennessee’s New Anti-LGBT Bill

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The Tennessee legislature just passed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would allow counselors and therapists in the state to refuse services to patients based on the providers’ “sincerely held principles.” Here’s what the media need to know about this unprecedented law.

On April 11, the Tennessee legislature passed HB 1840. The bill allows private practice therapists and counselors to reject patients if their “goals, outcomes, or behaviors” would violate the “sincerely held principles” of the provider. The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who has yet to indicate whether he will sign it into law. Here’s what the media need to know about this latest “religious freedom” bill seeking to legalize discrimination against LGBT people:

1. This Isn’t A Typical “Religious Freedom” Bill

Unlike broad “religious freedom” bills recently vetoed in Georgia and passed in Mississippi, Tennessee’s measure is tailored to allow licensed counselors and therapists to broadly discriminate against patients. While the original bill would have allowed counselors to refuse to treat patients based on “sincerely held religious beliefs,” that wording was amended to the broader language of “sincerely held principles.” In addition to sanctioning discrimination against LGBT patients, the bill’s sweeping scope means “a therapist opposed to war or U.S. military policy could refuse to treat a veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome,” according to Art Terrazas, director of government affairs for the American Counseling Association. That could mean some patients going without care if they are refused by the only available counselor -- a possibility in schools and particularly rural areas.

If passed, the legislation would make Tennessee the only state that allows counselors to refuse to treat patients based on their own belief systems.

2. The Bill Violates The Ethics Of All Major Counseling Professionals

The bill’s broad license to discriminate violates the ethics of all major counseling professions, which prohibit unfair discrimination against clients. This list includes the American Association of Christian Counselors, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the Association of Marital and Family Therapists, and the American Psychological Association.

As local media outlets in Tennessee have noted, the bill specifically targets the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) revised 2014 Code of Ethics, which state 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 bill would prevent the ACA from “disciplining an applicant or licensee based on a violation of A.11.b of the 2014 American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.”

ACA members have spoken out against HB 1840, calling it “Hate Bill 1840.” Peter Wilson, who has a doctorate in education and directs the Graduate Counseling Program at Trevecca Nazarene University, said:

As a counselor educator, I am concerned that HB 1840 attacks the ACA Code of Ethics, a document that is critical to the training of future counselors. … This legislation is unnecessary and is an infringement of the government on a profession that is capable of governing itself.

Dianne Bradley, who has a doctorate and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and counselor educator, similarly said that “House Bill 1840, now known as 'Hate Bill 1840' is an attempted solution to a problem that does not exist.”

3. Anti-LGBT Extremists Are Behind The Push For HB 1840

Anti-LGBT extremists are behind the efforts to pass the discriminatory legislation. The ACA’s Terrazas said the bill was created by lobbying efforts of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

FACT is the state affiliate of the Family Research Council, a national organization that has been designated an anti-LGBT “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 thanks to its propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people. FACT president David Fowler has previously written that the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove “homosexuality” from its list of mental disorders put psychiatry “off track.” Fowler recently called transgender students “abnormal” when testifying in favor of an anti-transgender bathroom bill currently pending before the Tennessee legislature. FACT also is currently leading the charge in a lawsuit challenging the SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

ADF is a Christian nonprofit based in Scottsdale, AZ, with a nearly $43 million-a-year budget. ADF is behind the national push for “religious freedom” laws and discriminatory so-called “bathroom bills” that target transgender students. Much of ADF's past work has consisted of anti-LGBT activism, including opposing a gay-inclusive Boy Scouts of America, labeling the hate crime that led to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard “a hoax" to advance the “homosexual agenda,” and working internationally to criminalize gay sex.