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Bill Would Allow Counselors To Deny Service

Posted: 5:50 PM, Feb 18, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-19 02:19:20Z

What started with a little debate on the senate floor ended in a vote of 27 to 5 to pass Senate Bill 1556, a proposed law some have been calling into question.

"It sounded like a bill that had been filed in previous years except it was worse," said Chris Sanders. 

If passed it would give state licensed counselors and therapists the ability to transfer patients who conflict with their own personal and religious beliefs. 

"We know in part it's the LGBT community, now it could also be religious minorities in Tennessee. We're not saying we're the only ones affected, but we believe we're targeted," Sanders said. 

Sanders has been the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project and believes anyone who is seeking counseling should not be told they can't be helped because of personal reasons.

"Religious judgmentalism in that moment when you're seeking help is particularly damaging and destructive," said Sanders. 

"Those who try to characterize this bill as being anti anything, they don't understand the bill," Senator Jack Johnson said. 

Johnson proposed the bill a few months ago after he was approached by a faith based counselor in Brentwood.

"He was speaking on behalf of literally dozens if not scores of counselors from across the state who had a real concern about the change to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics," said Johnson. 

That change prohibited counselors from transferring patients they don't want to treat. Johnson said his bill aims to amend that.

"No one is going to have a door slammed in their face, no one is not going to be able to get the counseling that they need," said Johnson. 

Still, Sanders questioned its equality saying "professionals don't opt out of serving people just because they have a religious difference of opinion."

SB 1556 has been scheduled to go before the House next week.