On Monday, the Tennessee state legislature introduced a bill that would allow counselors to discriminate against LGBT students, sexually-active students or anyone else based on their religious morals.
The bill, SB 514, was promoted by Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley to “prevent an institution of high education from discriminating against a student in the counseling, social worker, psychology programs because of their religious beliefs.”
In a report by The Tennessean, the bill was conceived when a Christian student named Julea Ward was expelled from Eastern Michigan after she refused to “engage in gay-affirming counseling” with a gay student who was seeking treatment for depression in 2009.
Hensley’s bill would protect any student or staff member who “refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief.”
State Rep. John J. DeBerry Jr., who had promoted Tennessee’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill which barred the discussion of homosexuality in schools, has introduced a version of Hensley’s bill in the state House. Both bills were co-authored by the Tennessee conservative group Family Action Council.
Jake Morris, who is the head of the counseling program at the Nashville-based Christian Lipscomb University, told The Tennessean that he’s opposed to the bills because student counselors must be available to treat all clients.
“I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door,” he said. “For example, if a student thinks divorce is sinful, that student still needs to know how to treat clients who have gone through a divorce.”
“We are health care professionals,” Morris added. “We need to act like it.”
The New Civil Rights Movement’s David Badash said that the bills seem to be using religion as a “door to hide and cower behind.”
“The concept of so-called ‘religious liberty’ as it’s being used is faulty,” Badash wrote on Tuesday. “If anti-gay people want a reason to not help gay people, they should have the personal courage to do so, and accept the consequences.”
Watch this broadcast from the Tennessee State Senate in the video below.