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There’s more going on in the Michigan legislature than banning a female representative from speaking on the House floor for daring to say the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion. Last week, the State House passed HB4050, the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act.” If approved by the Senate, this bill will allow college students studying to be counselors in social work and psychology programs to refuse services to clients if they have “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.”
The bill was named after a graduate student from Eastern Michigan University who was kicked out of their counseling program for refusing to counsel a gay client. She insisted that being gay “goes against what the Bible said.” The University, and the Federal District Court that dismissed her suit against the school, insisted that they “had a right and duty” to follow the “professional ethic rules” that make up the University’s “counseling accreditation.”
The Court’s dismissal is in line with a December 2011 ruling of the 11th Circuit Court in Georgia that agreed that Augusta State University was right for expelling Jennifer Keetan from their graduated counseling education program for the same reason. In their ruling, they stated that counselors have a responsibility to their clients.
Counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.
The Family Equality Council, a national organization advocating for LGBT families, said of Michigan’s attempt to allow discrimination of LGBT clients who require counseling services:
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.
What would happen to the profession, practice, and experience of state-licensed counseling if therapists were allowed to follow religious law over state law?