NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that’s causing a lot of controversy because it would allow counselors to refuse service to a client based on their religious beliefs.
A subcommittee is set to discuss Senate Bill 1556 Tuesday before it heads to the floor of the Senate.
“We call it the counseling discrimination bill,” Chris Sanders with the Tennessee Equality Project said.
Senator Jack Johnson, who sponsors the bill, told News 2 that’s not the case.
“It’s not anti-anybody; it’s not anti-anything. It’s just pro-religious liberty,” he said.
The bill would require counselors to provide a referral for the client.
“You shouldn’t be forced to give counseling against a personally held belief,” Johnson explained.
He said the American Counseling Association is the one that changed the code of ethics in 2014.
“Why would the ACA impose a code of ethics that’s anti-faith based counselor,” he adds.
The American Counseling Association responded saying they oppose the bill and the ACA code of ethics explicitly prohibits licensed professional counselors from discriminating against those who seek their care.
In Brentwood, Addiction Campuses has counselors that work with those that struggle with addiction.
They told News 2 that the bill seems to target the LGBT community and, aside from the possibility of the bill being used as a tool for discrimination, they find it “redundant, and a waste of taxpayer money.”
Sanders agreed that the community feels targeted.
“We do because same-sex couples came up in the discussion this week,” he said.
However, Johnson denies that claim, saying, “It’s not a matter of discriminating against anyone. It’s a matter of protecting the integrity of the profession as it has been protected for many many years.”
“Typically in the law we try to protect the consumers, so I find it interesting that we are trying to shift things to protect practitioners who are more than protected,” argued Sanders.
“I plan to run it and I expect it to pass overwhelmingly,” said Johnson. The vote in the Senate Health Committee Wednesday was 7-1.