Sunday, May 1, 2016

Religious Freedom or "Religious Freedom"?

Religious freedom bills have become a very controversial topic in the past few months, with many states passing bills that allow for individuals with sincerely held beliefs to refuse service to individuals whose practices do not align with these beliefs. Mississippi, North Carolina, and Kansas are just a few examples of states that have created this type of legislation in 2016. Most recently in Tennessee, a religious freedom law has passed that allows for therapists to assert their free exercise of religion rights. These therapists can refuse service to an LGBT patient on the basis of their religious objections. There are also two key provisions to this law that Governor Bill Haslam pointed out- one is that if the patient is in imminent danger to either themselves or others, services cannot be refused. The other is that the therapist must organize a referral for the client to another therapist who is better suited to him or her.

Proponents of the bill see it as giving therapists the same rights as lawyers or doctors by allowing them to choose their clients and work with those who they feel they can help to the best of their abilities. Governor Haslam said, in favor of the bill, “The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors-just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers- to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs”. The Tennessee director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hedy Weinberg, disagrees, and instead sees this law as legalizing blatant discrimination against the LGBT community and said, “This measure is rooted in the dangerous misconception that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate”. Those in opposition also see it as a reaction to marriage equality laws and an attack on the LGBT community as a whole.

This case is similar to one we heard about last week- Andrew Cash was taken out of the counseling program at Missouri State University because of his religious objections to gay marriage and his refusal to counsel gay couples. With both this bill in Tennessee and the Andrew Cash case, the issue revolves around a conflict between free exercise of religion and discrimination. This is also similar to other examples of religious freedom laws, such as the laws in Missouri that permit shop owners to deny services to individuals based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

I believe that this religious freedom law in Tennessee is constitutional. It protects the free exercise of religion rights of individuals who have sincerely held beliefs. These therapists that do not feel as if they can be most beneficial to LGBT patients should have the right to refer them to another therapist who they feel is better suited to help. No individual should be forced, by law, to act in ways that go against their religious convictions. To do so would be violating their constitutional rights as citizens. Furthermore, the clients themselves would most likely benefit more from working with a therapist who wants to help them, rather than being forced into a professional relationship with a therapist who is not the best match for them. The client is never being completely denied services- rather, they are being placed with a therapist who is a good match for them, which other professions allow for now.

What do you think? Does this law protect the free exercise rights of therapists? Or does it discriminate against the LGBT community?


Sarah A said...

I am a little torn on this issues, but ultimately come down siding against you. The job of a therapist to to serve all those who need you- not just those who have views that align with yours. is denying someone based on their marital status any different than denying someone based on gender? how far can this discrimination go? When you become a therapist, you are agreeing to treat all people. If your religion prevent you from doing so, you should find a different profession that allows you to practice your religion.

Matthew L. said...

This is definitely a controversial bill. I believe my final judgement on this case is that I agree with you. Although I understand that people may believe this will lead to discrimination, I believe it is important to remember that every citizen still deserves their freedom of religion. Therefore, I believe it is the therapist's right to refuse service if they would be forced to say something that goes against their religion. I believe this comes from the sense that the government can not force a citizen to say something or give up their religion.