The Tennessee state Senate on Monday considered a bill that would allow counselors to discriminate against LGBT students, sexually-active students or anyone else based on religious objections.
Republican state Sen. Joey Hensley encouraged fellow senators to pass SB 514 to "prevent an institution of high education from discriminating against a student in the counseling, social worker, psychology programs because of their religious beliefs."
According the The Tennessean, the bill was inspired by Julea Ward, a Christian student who was expelled from Eastern Michigan after she refused to "engage in gay-affirming counseling" by helping an LGBT student who wanted to be treated for depression in 2009. Arizona has already passed a law based on the case. Similar bills have also been proposed by lawmakers in Michigan and Georgia.
Hensley's bill would protect any student 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 been a defender of Tennessee's so-called "don't say gay" bill barring the discussion of homosexuality in schools, has introduced a version of Hensley's bill in the state House. Both bills were written with the help of the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee.
Jake Morris, the head of the counseling program at the Nashville-based Christian Lipscomb University, told The Tennessean that he objected to the bills because student counselors needed to be available to treat all clients.
"I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door," he explained. "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 observed that the bill seemed to be using religion as a "door to hide and cower behind."
"The concept of so-called 'religious liberty' as it’s being (mis)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."
The Tennessee state Senate tabled discussion of SB 514 until next Thursday to give senators a chance to discuss amendments. A House subcommittee was expected to consider DeBerry's version of the bill on Tuesday.