Tenn. bill would permit student counselors to reject clients based on religious beliefs


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A former Tennessee state lawmaker turned anti-gay activist has helped draft a bill in the state legislature that would allow graduate student counselors to reject clients based on religious beliefs.

The proposed measure would bar schools from disciplining students if they decline to treat clients with “goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student,” such as opposition to homosexuality.

David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, who previously squared off in a fight with LGBTQ equality rights activists in an effort to change Tennessee’s anti-bullying law for students, received help from Alliance Defending Freedom,(ADF) a Phoenix-based Christian legal group, in drafting the bill.

The bill was based in large part by a case in Michigan that involved a Christian student named Julea Ward, who was expelled from a master’s degree program at Eastern Michigan University for refusing to counsel gay clients or clients who were sexually active but not married.

Ward sued the school with help from ADF, and eventually received a $75,000 settlement. Fowler’s bill would bar schools from punishing students like Ward.

A similar bill was signed into law in Arizona. Lawmakers in Michigan and Georgia have proposed similar bills.

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The Tennessean reported that the American Counseling Association, a national association for counselors, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Eastern Michigan University. That brief claimed students should not be allowed to use religion to turn down clients.

Fowler said that claim violates the religious freedom of students.

Jake Morris, the director of the graduate program in counseling at Nashville-based Lipscomb Christian university said the bill is a bad idea, and that students need to be able to treat a wide range of clients, not just those who share their religious values.

The state Senate was scheduled to discuss the bill Monday, while a House subcommittee is scheduled to take it up on Tuesday.

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