Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation Wednesday that allows counselors and therapists to turn away clients based on the practitioners’ “sincerely held principles,” a move criticized by professional organizations and LGBT-rights groups alike.
House Bill 1840, also known as Senate Bill 1556, shields counselors from being required to provide services to clients if providing those services would clash with the counselors’ personal values. (Earlier versions of the bill phrased it as “sincerely held religious beliefs” instead.)
Those counselors cannot be sued, charged with a crime, or penalized for their refusal, although they must coordinate a referral with the client to another counselor or therapist. The protections do not apply if a patient is at risk of imminent harm.
My colleague Emma Green recently discussed the bill alongside a flurry of similar legislation proposed throughout the country:
This legislation is part of a wave of religious-freedom bills that have been introduced and passed in the past year or so, almost all inspired by objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Some of these measures are just for show—pastors could never be legally compelled to perform a gay-marriage ceremony in the way some bills have suggested, for example. But some represent a relatively novel approach to religious-freedom legislation: They offer legal cover to people of faith who don’t want to provide certain goods or services to LGBT people, especially when doing so might seem like a tacit endorsement of their relationships and sex lives.
Haslam defended his decision to sign the bill, saying it had met his concerns about patients not receiving necessary care.