JURIST Digital Scholars
Tennessee law allows therapists to refuse patients on religious grounds
Tennessee law allows therapists to refuse patients on religious grounds

[JURIST] Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam [official website] on Wednesday announced that he signed into law a bill [HB 1840, text] allowing therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections, when that patient’s “goals, outcomes or behaviors” conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held principles.” The bill permits therapists to refuse service only if the individual is not in imminent danger, and if the counselor provides a referral to another therapist for treatment. On the bill, Haslam stated:

the substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors—just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers—to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs.

In reaction, the American Counseling Association [advocacy website], through spokesperson Art Terrazas, asserted that the bill not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking counseling, but will also have unintended consequences, “whether it’s [on] a veteran suffering from PTSD, a woman suffering from spousal abuse or a business owner simply trying to attract out of state client.” The bill passed the state senate in February, and the house in April.

The intersection of religious liberty and sexual orientation and gender identity has been a controversial issue in the US. Earlier this month Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed [JURIST report] an executive order that creates a new anti-discrimination law intended to protect members of the LGBT community. Prior to signing the executive order, there was no state law in Louisiana protecting LGBT individuals from employment discrimination. Shortly before, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said that he would veto [JURIST report] a religious freedom bill that critics claim would sanction discrimination against LGBT individuals. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also vetoed [press release] a similar bill in March. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stated [JURIST report] during a press conference that he will not defend House Bill 2, which he considers to be discriminatory against the LGBT community. That legislation specifically prohibits [JURIST report] local municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances.