Sen. Joey Hensley has introduced a bill that prohibits public institutions of higher education from disciplining or discriminating against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services. - Amends TCA Title 4 and Title 49.
Basically this bill would allow students in certain programs to claim a religious exemption from helping certain people. The cases from other states that are cited in support of the bill typically involve clients from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The law would allow students who are going into counseling professions to discriminate against such clients on the basis of religion.
The bill would have an impact on people who need counseling or assistance and it would harm the accreditation of the programs at our public universities.
I am writing to ask you to vote NO on SB514, which would allow students in counseling, psychology, or social work programs in our public universities to opt out of serving people if they claim a religious objection.
I am concerned about the impact this would have on people being served. If clients became aware that the student had chosen not to serve them because of a religious objection, that would increase the stigma of whatever difficulty they might be going through.
Allowing students to opt out of serving a whole group of people because of a personal objection is not a lesson we should teach students going into counseling, psychology, or social work. If anything, their faith should be a motivation to help people, not decide who is deserving of help.
I am concerned about the impact this law might have on the accreditation of the programs at our universities. This issue should be carefully assessed before any action is taken on the bill. We certainly don't want to decrease the value of the degrees that we award in these fields. The bill seems to be an usual effort at micromanaging the curriculum of a program. We have channels in our universities through their governance structures for addressing these issues if they arise in Tennessee.
Thank you for considering my views as you weigh your position on this bill.