LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — For critics of Arkansas’ religious objections law, a new rule allowing counselors to refer clients elsewhere if they have a religious or moral objection to treating them shows the Pandora’s box the majority-Republican Legislature opened last year. It also is a sign that the debate over the law that was upended in the final days of last year’s legislative session is far from over.
A legislative panel last week approved the rule by the Board of Examiners and Counseling, which regulates 2,800 counselors and marriage and family therapists in the state. The rule will allow counselors and therapists to refer a patient to someone else over sincerely held “ethical, moral or religious principles” but only after careful consideration and consultation, and only if the counselor is unable to effectively serve the client. It also says counselors cannot abandon someone who seeks assistance.
The board’s executive director has called the rule a way for the panel to address any complaints if such referrals occur and an attempt to head off a more far-reaching law like one recently enacted in Tennessee that allows counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs.
“We’re going to be policing our own profession, making sure folks are doing what they’re supposed to be doing about those issues that intrude upon their ability to be with a client,” Michael Loos told lawmakers.
But the rule is drawing criticism from several groups, including the American Counseling Association. The association, which represents more than 56,000 professional counselors, says the rule runs counter to its code of ethics.
“This (rule) blatantly circumvents that process and opens the door for discrimination,” Richard Yep, the association’s chief executive officer, said in a statement last week.