Haslam Signs Bill That Allows Counselors to Discriminate


Bill Haslam
  • Bill Haslam
It's now legal in Tennessee for licensed counselors and therapists to refuse to treat clients whose "goals, outcomes, or behaviors" violate the counselors "sincerely held principles."

The bill was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, and Governor Bill Haslam signed it into law on Tuesday afternoon. 

The bill was one of several religious freedom-style bills pushed by the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) this year. That group often focuses on pushing anti-LGBT measures, and it's been called a hate group by LGBT activists. FACT has said the bill is intended to protect the right of conscience of a counselor and to safeguard their religious beliefs. 

The American Counseling Association recently updated its code of ethics to prevent discrimination against clients in need of service, which may have prompted FACT to push for a change in Tennessee.

The bill doesn't name LGBT people specifically, and it has potential to have a far-reaching impact beyond the LGBT community. But Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders believes the LGBT community is the bill's primary target. He has said the bill will be especially harmful to LGBT youth in rural areas, where the only counselors available may now legally turn them away.

That said, Sanders thinks the new law will be used to discriminate against all sorts of people.

"They amended out the word 'religion' and it’s now 'sincerely held principles,' and that’s even broader," Sanders said. "Conceivably, sexism and racism are principles. At this point, it’s so wide open, it’s ridiculous, and it defeats the purpose of having a counseling code of ethics."

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