The Michigan House of representatives took a step in the wrong direction last week. In an effort to not “discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program,” HB 5040, the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act,” will allow students in such programs to refuse counseling a client if the “goals, outcomes, or behaviors [of the counseling]…conflict with a sincerely held religious belief.” This bill effectively allows a student of psychology to go against the spirit of the discipline by simply ignoring scientific and professional standards. Healthcare, whether mental or physical, should be patient-centered: it is not up to the whim of the therapist to deny caring for an at-risk client. Refusing to provide counseling to LGBT clients is discriminatory and nothing else.
Read on for an excerpt from ThinkProgress.org about this story.
At question in Michigan is whether or not a Christian counseling student should be required to provide support to gay clients in violation of their religious beliefs. This week, the Michigan House passed HB 5040, the “Julea Ward Freedom Of Conscience Act,” which gives college students a pass from providing any kind of counseling that compromises their religious beliefs, including affirming gay clients:
A public degree or certificate granting college, university, junior college, or community college of this state shall not discipline or discriminate 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.
Julea Ward’s story doesn’t hold much merit for the issue at stake. She sued Eastern Michigan University after she was kicked out of her counseling graduate program — she refused to affirm a client’s gay orientation because it “goes against what the Bible says.” A federal district court judge dismissed her suit, ruling that the university “had a right and duty” to enforce the professional ethic rules that dictate its counseling accreditation. He added that Ward’s dismissal “was entirely due” to her “refusal to change her behavior” rather than her beliefs. The 11th Circuit similarly ruled against Jennifer Keeton, who experienced a similar situation at Augusta State University in Georgia, stating that “counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.” . . .