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Politics

Bill some call anti-gay advances in the Tennessee House

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  A controversial bill that would allow therapists to refuse counseling to clients on the grounds of “personally held beliefs” advanced out of a House subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Don Howell of Polk County, says the measure comes in reaction to a 2014 change in the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. The code now requires practitioners to treat clients, even if doing so conflicts with their “personally held beliefs.”

Howell says that’s a violation of the counselor’s First Amendment right to Freedom of Religion. He says his bill would shield counselors from being disciplined by the Association if they refuse a client, but also requires therapists to make appropriate referrals if they turn clients away.

“It tells the counselor that they have a duty to make an appropriate referral so that that client can receive the counseling that they need, while at the same time honoring the deeply held beliefs of the counselor.”

Committee member John Ray Clements, a Nashville Democrat, voiced opposition to the bill. Clements says he believes the focus of counseling should remain on the client.

The measure goes next to the full Health Committee in the House. The companion bill passed the Tennessee Senate in mid-February.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Look for the dispute wording in section 11 of the ACA Code of Ethics.