TN Gov signs bill allowing counselors to refuse treatment based on religious beliefs


Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill allowing counselors to refuse treatment based on religious beliefs.

A version of the bill passed the Senate earlier this month, and the House approved the House Bill 1840 (SB1556) a vote 68-22, along with five amendments for it that change language. In addition to allowing counselors to refuse treatment based on religious beliefs, the bill requires counselors to provide notice of refusal at their practice, and prohibits charging a fee for services refused, and allows counselors not to refuse someone under 18 years old who is seeking counseling as a victim of bullying.


Has anyone figured out if this bill allows counselors to turn down people who are just doing things the counselor disagrees with (but who’s issues are unrelated) or if it allows them to turn down only people who are working towards goals the counselor disagrees with?

For example – Can a counselor turn down a person who is being treated for depression (but happens to be gay) or only a person who is getting counseling to do something the counselor thinks immoral (for example, a person wanting help transitioning to another gender)?


My understanding (but I could be wrong) is that it allows a counselor to stop seeing a patient if the religious differences are a barrier from providing quality care. The counselor must refer them to someone who can take them.

For example: the counselor wouldn’t turn down a gay person who is coming in because of issues that have nothing to do with their sexual tendencies or practices. However, if the patient’s sex life if the focus, then the counselor could refer them to someone else who will be more empathetic.

The same thing would apply to a devout Catholic patient wanting to talk about faith related issues to non-Catholic or atheist counselor. The counselor would have the right to refer them to another counselor who is going to be more empathetic towards them.

I started seeing a Catholic therapist a little while ago, and I can say that this law is as much of a benefit for the patient as it is for the counselor. Having a counselor who shares your spiritual values (or who at least is not hostile towards them) is a real blessing and can really help with the counseling sessions. Afterall, a patient’s spiritual life is a big part of therapy.

God Bless!




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