Religious counseling law could lead to lawsuit

The national group that recently canceled a Nashville convention as a result of a new state law that allows counselors to deny service to clients is considering squaring off against Tennessee in court, reports The Tennessean.

“I’m not an attorney, but I will tell you that we will be looking at whether or not there is a possible legal action to take against the state given this law being enacted,” American Counseling Association CEO Richard Yep told The Tennessean this week.

Yep said any potential legal action against the state could even expand beyond the ACA.

“There could be a challenge from the federal government based on the fact that the state obviously does receive federal funds through Medicare. Whether or not the Department of Justice wants to get involved because of the denial of services, we will see,” he said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, which enacted a law that bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match with their sex at birth. The Justice Department’s civil rights office said the law violates civil rights.
The state also has sued the federal government in an effort to keep the controversial law.

…Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who serves as chairman of the House Health Committee, which discussed the measure, brushed aside concerns that the state could face action from the federal government, saying, “I figured there could be legal action, but at the end of the day there is no refusal of service in this bill.”

Sexton said he worried about Yep misrepresenting the fact that the ACA was not consulted as the bill made its way through the legislative process. He pointed out that the ACA hired a lobbyist who met with lawmakers about the legislation.

In an interview with The Tennessean earlier this week, Yep said no one in the legislature or the governor’s office reached out to the ACA to ask for a clarification about the organization’s change to its code of ethics.

“At this point I don’t know what to think about the association as a whole,” Sexton said. “All this law does is allow a counselor to refer a patient to another counselor.”