Republicans At It Again – New Tennessee Bill Allows Religious Counselors To Reject LGBT Students

religious freedom
Religious freedom is being used insidiously by conservatives across the country as an excuse for Christians to be bigots against the LGBT community, and as an excuse for doctors, pharmacists, and health professionals to deny women reproductive services. And now, Tennessee Republicans want to give counselors the same power.

SB 514 is the newest bill being pushed in Tennessee that would allow rampant discrimination of LGBT students. According to the Tennessean, the Tennessee chapter of Christian group Family Action Council drafted a measure designed to “bar schools from disciplining students if they decline to treat clients with “goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student.”

The bill allows graduate student counselors to reject helping suicidal LGBT students, students who are sexually active outside of marriage, and students who have been divorced. Basically, the bill gives these counselors the right to deny help to any student they deem unworthy based on religious grounds. The new bill stems from a Michigan case where a Christian graduate student counselor was expelled from Eastern Michigan University “for refusing to counsel gay clients or clients who were sexually active but not married.”

The Tennessee bill not only prevents counselors from being expelled or fired, it allows them to freely discriminate under the shield of religious freedom.

The Tennessean reports that “the head of the counseling program at a Nashville-based Christian university said the bill is a bad idea. Jake Morris, director of the graduate program in counseling at Lipscomb University, said students need to be able to treat a wide range of clients, not just those who share their religious values.”

“I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door,” Morris 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. We need to act like it.”

Morris is absolutely correct. If people want to be a counselor, they need to be able to deal with people of all walks of life. They can’t just pick and choose who their patients are. Religious freedom has been taken too far. From giving doctors the ability to deny reproductive care to women to giving pharmacists the ability to deny contraception to women to giving counselors the power to reject people at will, Republicans are exempting Christians from treating people equally. What’s to stop conservatives from pushing a bill to allow emergency room surgeons to deny emergency life saving surgery to an LGBT individual? What’s to stop the GOP from allowing racism on religious grounds? The concept of religious freedom has simply been taken way too far and is being used as a loophole to discriminate against others. It’s wrong and is an abuse of the First Amendment. You can bet that if a gay counselor denied council to a person for being a Christian, Republicans would be throwing a tantrum over it.

Health care and counseling professionals are supposed to be trustworthy people that anybody can go to for care and advice. When these professionals are at work, they should leave their religious beliefs at the door and focus on helping anybody who asks for assistance. Patients should always come first. But if Republicans have their way, patients will have a harder time finding a health care professional they can trust. LGBT suicides could increase because they are turned away by a person who could have saved their lives. Women could die in hospitals because doctors refuse to treat ectopic pregnancies. This is insanity and it needs to be put to a swift end. Religious freedom is important but it should not be used as an excuse to hurt people.